Walgreens pharmacists union to demonstrate outside 46 Chicago-area stores over the next month

Walgreens pharmacists union to demonstrate outside 46 Chicago-area stores over the next month

A union representing Walgreens pharmacists plans to demonstrate outside of more than 46 local Walgreens stores over the next month to protest pay and working conditions.

The National Pharmacists Association-LIUNA, which says it represents 900 Chicago-area Walgreens pharmacists, plans to demonstrate outside two or three stores a day from now until May 10.

The union says the pharmacists have been working without a contract for nine months and have received a 2% wage increase over the last seven years. Meanwhile, they say, the pharmacists have endured inconsistent scheduling and have been expected to provide more services to patients since the pandemic, such as vaccinations, without additional staff support.

“We were told by Walgreens we were essential workers during the COVID crisis, and then after all that work and bringing the company through the crisis, they’re thanking us, unfortunately, by working us harder than ever before, cutting our staffing, cutting our benefits and not providing fair wage increases,” said Paul Price, a union representative for the National Pharmacists Association.

Walgreens spokesperson Marty Maloney said in a statement Thursday that Walgreens appreciates its pharmacists and has worked over the last two years to improve their experience.

“We are fully committed to ensuring their contributions are acknowledged and rewarded, including with competitive pay and benefits, and are continuing to bargain in good faith with our Chicago-area pharmacists in an effort to reach a new contract,” Maloney said in a statement.

Walgreens said it has enhanced its technology and centralized many of its services to help reduce workloads in its pharmacies.

The union held the first demonstrations outside Walgreens stores in Aurora and Naperville on Thursday. Off-duty pharmacists and union and community members stood in front of the stores in white lab coats, holding signs that read “From essential … to exploited.”

Pharmacists are not walking off the job to participate in the demonstrations. Walgreens said there’s been no disruption to its operations.

“We are doing more work than ever, with less help and less pay,” said Robert Kobleski, an overnight pharmacist at a Chicago Walgreens, as he demonstrated outside a Naperville Walgreens on Thursday. “It’s creating a dangerous situations for patients and for staff. They’re in danger of making mistakes and the public is in danger of being on the receiving end of those mistakes.”

The union plans to demonstrate at Walgreens headquarters in Deerfield on May 10.

The demonstrations come after some pharmacists and others walked off the job last year at Walgreens and CVS Health locations in various parts of the country.

The protests this month also come amid cost-cutting measures at Walgreens.

Walgreens confirmed earlier this week that it is laying off corporate workers who are mostly Chicago-based, but a spokesperson would not say how many workers are losing their jobs. It’s the fourth round of corporate worker layoffs at Walgreens over the past year, starting last May when Walgreens said it was eliminating 504 jobs, representing about 10% of its corporate workforce at the time.

The retail pharmacy giant is also reducing its front-end store employees’ hours by 4% to 7% “following a review of our labor model and forecasting process,” spokesperson Fraser Engerman said in a statement Wednesday.

CEO Tim Wentworth has said Walgreens is aiming to cut $1 billion in costs this year.

Walgreens had been working in recent years to become a health care destination but has faced challenges.

Walgreens invested heavily in Chicago-based VillageMD, which has primary care clinics next to Walgreens stores. But Wentworth said during an earnings call in March that Walgreens had recorded a $5.8 billion impairment charge during the last quarter related to VillageMD, and that VillageMD would be closing 160 clinics.