Should Retail Pharmacists Unionize?

May 28, 2015

If there's anything resembling a trade in medicine, it's retail pharmacy.

A Facebook comment about my last blog post stated the best way to make retail pharmacy safer would be to unionize. I honestly thought I was the only pharmacist on the planet who felt this way.

If there's anything resembling a trade in medicine, it’s retail pharmacy. It’s a factory line with someone’s life in the balance. It’s where science meets speed, and staff members are pushed to their absolute limits.

The duties of the pharmacist keep expanding, and the staffing hours keep getting cut. If they get cut any closer to the bone, I believe it will create a public safety issue.

Would unionizing change this? It could, but it depends on the union.

I’ve seen unions do nothing for their members, and I’ve seen them keep airplanes from taking off. For a retail pharmacist union to be successful, a great majority of the country’s retail pharmacists would need to join. It would also require an insane amount of start-up capital, because unions don’t just fund themselves.

Retail pharmacy is health care viewed by the largest of public eyes. We work in Plexiglas cages, but there are no signs telling people not to poke us with sticks. Patients won’t complain about waiting 2 hours to see their overbooked physician, but they take umbrage to the fact that their 7 prescriptions may take 30 minutes, because everyone else around them is waiting for a prescription, too.

I love being busy at work, and I have a skill set that allows me to be highly competitive in a high-volume environment. With 1 more tech per shift and another pharmacist to cover tertiary care and busy script hours, however, I would run more efficiently at a much safer pace. There is nothing more detrimental to a pharmacist’s work than feeling rushed.

If there were a union to stand up for retail pharmacists’ rights and help regulate the pace at which they can safely operate, then I would be leading the way to join it. Pharmacists work 12-hour shifts and get a single 10-minute break about a half hour before closing, if they’re lucky. I don’t even know the meaning of the word “lunch.”

It would be nice to feel like something has retail pharmacists’ backs.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, is not the next Jimmy Hoffa.