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labor Pharmacy Unionizing Efforts Build Momentum as a CVS Omnicare in Las Vegas Seeks To Join

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace has funneled resources into a new pharmacy guild, hiring organizers and launching a website – which crashed the first day when more than 30,000 people tried to visit.


A national effort to unionize pharmacists against worsening conditions inside chains like CVS and Walgreens has hit a milestone as workers at the first of what organizers say will be dozens of pharmacies files a federal petition seeking the right to join The Pharmacy Guild.

The petition, expected to become public Monday, puts CVS on notice that workers in its Omnicare pharmacy in Las Vegas intend to hold an election to determine whether the newly formed guild should represent them in labor negotiations with the Fortune 500 company.

Nearly 30 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians work at the Omnicare location, which fills prescriptions for nursing homes across Nevada and is not a public-facing pharmacy like most of the chain's more than 9,600 locations. A simple majority is needed to win and organizers told USA TODAY they are confident they have the numbers.

“It’s time to move away from the system of abuse and intimidation,” said Bled Tanoe, an Oklahoma pharmacist and a founding member of The Pharmacy Guild, which attracted hundreds of people to its booth at the American Pharmacists Association’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend. 

Tanoe said the guild anticipates pushback from CVS as its employees prepare for the election, which could be held within the next couple of months. The National Labor Relations Board, which oversees union activity, must first seek an agreement between the employees and their employer before green-lighting the election.

USA TODAY reached out to CVS, which said early Monday that it had not yet seen the petition.

“While we haven’t had an opportunity to review any petition, we respect our employees’ right to either unionize or refrain from doing so,” said Michael DeAngelis, CVS’ executive director of corporate communications. “We believe the direct, two-way relationship we have with our colleagues is the best way to resolve workplace concerns. We continually listen to our colleagues’ feedback which helps inform our programs and policies.”

The Pharmacy Guild formed late last year in the wake of a series of high-profile walkouts by CVS and Walgreens pharmacists who decried untenable working conditions that jeopardize patient safety.   

Community pharmacists for years have warned about short staffing levels combined with the rising pressure of corporate performance goals, which they say push a dwindling number of workers to handle an ever-increasing number of prescriptions, vaccinations and other tasks.

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That pressure intensified during the pandemic, when pharmacists also were required to administer back-to-back COVID-19 tests and vaccinations.

Pharmacists "have been begging for help, but CVS and Walgreens are so big and so powerful that they felt like they were not being heard,” said Shane Jerominski, a California pharmacist and one of the founding members of The Pharmacy Guild. “That’s why we formed: There is power in numbers.”

Jerominksi’s efforts began more than two years ago with a modest fundraiser and overtures to established unions in the hopes one would help him to form a national pharmacy guild, but he said there wasn’t much interest.

That changed after the walkouts, which drew widespread media attention and highlighted the scope of the industry’s crisis. IAM Healthcare, a union that represents over 12,000 health care professionals and is itself part of the powerful International Association of Machinists and Aerospace, agreed to take on The Pharmacy Guild.

IAM funneled resources into the new guild, hiring organizers and launching a website – which crashed the first day when more than 30,000 people tried to visit. It has since garnered interest from workers at dozens of pharmacies across the country, Jerominski said, including chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite-Aid, grocery store pharmacies like Kroger and Walmart and nonpublic facing pharmacies like the CVS Omnicare in Las Vegas.