Pharmacy workers are staging walkouts at Walgreens across the country as employees say they face harsh working conditions, and the job action has the potential for long lines for flu shots and prescriptions nationwide.
Walkouts are planned at hundreds of the roughly 9,000 Walgreens locations in the U.S. from Monday to Wednesday. While some employees will walk off the jobs for a single day, others plan to strike for all three days. Nationwide, the chain has about 8 million customers.
A walkout organizer wrote on Reddit that corporate demands are “unrealistic and unfair to us and to our patients.”
“The current regime has continued to cut hours while adding more tasks. This is unsafe for our patients and for Walgreens employees,” they wrote. “I have spent hours explaining to patients why we scheduled them an appointment for a vaccine we didn’t have. I’ve also given over 100 vaccines in a day all by myself while 600+ leaflets lay on the counter.”
The employee said prior expression of concerns were ignored or criticized.
“I’ve asked for help and voiced my concerns just as you have,” the user said. “They call you all whiners and tell you that you aren’t ‘meeting expectations.’ When will they meet our expectations? When will they give us the support to meet the expectations of our patients?”
Current and former workers took to X, formerly Twitter, to share some of their experiences ahead of the walkouts.
“Worked Wags for 2mo after graduating. Prior to starting, all staff [save 1 tech] quit,” one user said. “A floater walked in, saw the state of the store, and walked out in 5 minutes. I called the suicide helpline my first solo day.”
With expectations for prescription and vaccine counts are set exceptionally high, many say service is suffering for customers as working conditions become overwhelming for employees.
Another employee wrote: “These actions are a last resort but help improve patient care.”
Newsweek reached out to Walgreens for comment.
Walgreens previously told CNN that the company increased its training for new pharmacists but paused “non-critical” training during the busy fall flu shot season. The company said it does not maintain quotas, but employees allege the expectations are beyond what’s feasible.
“There have been nights where I’ve been on the verge of tears because of how hard it is,” an employee told CNN. “I had a patient give me a fist bump and tell me I was doing a good job, and that meant so much to me. The patients are caring more about us than the employer is.”
The company has acknowledged that the years surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have been increasingly challenging for employees, and said it is open to hearing workers’ concerns.
“The last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work while recognizing it has been a very challenging time,” Fraser Engerman, a communications director at Walgreens, told CNN. “We also understand the immense pressures felt across the US in retail pharmacy right now. We are engaged and listening to the concerns raised by some of our team members.”
During the pandemic, the stores faced staffing shortages and a record demand for vaccinations. Engerman said Walgreens will continue to make investments in pharmacist wages and hiring bonuses as the industry deals with additional challenges.
Not the only one
CVS pharmacy has also had walkouts. In September, about 20 pharmacies closed their doors over the span of two weeks in the Kansas City area.
“Pharmacists are doing exactly what they’ve been trained to do, which is evaluate the situation and take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they’re providing the best patient care,” said Michael Hogue, CEO of the American Pharmacists Association, told CNN.
At CVS, leaders say the company is consistently involved in conversations with employees to improve working conditions.
“It’s a continuous two-way dialogue to share how we’re meeting the commitments we made to our teams and to continue to hear their direct feedback,” Amy Thibault, lead director of external communications for CVS Pharmacy, told CNN.
“We’re committed to providing access to consistent, safe, high-quality health care to the patients and communities we serve and are working with our pharmacists to directly address any concerns they may have.
Newsweek reached out to CVS for further comment.
Flu season demands
As the colder months approach, more Americans are looking to get flu shots and coronavirus vaccines.
Nationwide, roughly 50 percent of Americans get their flu shots most years. However, a typical flu season sees millions get the virus, hundreds of thousands hospitalized and tens of thousands die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And if more Americans are unable to get flu shots, that number could grow.
Peak flu season is between December and February, but customers are encouraged to get their immunizations as early as possible.
With coronavirus cases still high, many people are also showing up to their local pharmacies for booster shots, increasing demands on staff and creating an even more stressful environment.