A CVS Omnicare pharmacy in Las Vegas has become the first location to join a new national pharmacy union, a milestone for organizers trying to help thousands of U.S. pharmacy workers address what they call unsafe working conditions. 

Nearly 30 pharmacy staff at the Las Vegas branch of CVS’s Omnicare won their union election on Thursday by a landslide margin of 87% to 13%, according to a press release from the guild. The pharmacists and pharmacy technicians there fill prescriptions for the elderly and other vulnerable patients at long-term care facilities across Nevada. 

Those workers now join the Pharmacy Guild, which will represent them in labor negotiations with CVS. 

“We’re going to try to get a best-in-the-industry contract for these people that have trusted our union to represent them. It’s a historic win and a very decisive one,” Shane Jerominski, a community pharmacist and co-founder of the Pharmacy Guild, told CNBC.  

Jerominski and other organizers of a recent nationwide walkout of pharmacy staff partnered with IAM Healthcare – a union representing thousands of health-care professionals – to launch the Pharmacy Guild in November. That work stoppage in late October, which organizers dubbed “Pharmageddon,” spanned major drugstore chains like CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, drawing widespread media attention to the scope of workers’ concerns.

Like the walkout effort, the Pharmacy Guild aims to help pharmacy staff address what many employees call unsafe staffing levels and increasing workloads throughout the industry that put both employees and patients at risk. The guild also calls for legislative and regulatory changes to establish higher standards of practice in pharmacies to protect patients. 

The unionization effort is the culmination of years of growing discontent among retail pharmacy staff, who often grapple with understaffed teams and increasing work expectations imposed by corporate management. The Covid pandemic only exacerbated those issues, as new duties like testing and vaccination stretched pharmacists and technicians even thinner. 

In a statement, a CVS Health spokesperson said the company respects its employees’ right to unionize or refrain from doing so, including the decision of Omnicare Las Vegas workers to choose union representation. The company added that it will work “closely and collaboratively” with its employees to address their current and future concerns and is “committed to providing a positive and rewarding work environment.” 

Omnicare, acquired by CVS in 2015, is not a public-facing pharmacy like most of the chain’s nearly 10,000 locations. There are Omnicare pharmacies in 49 states, according to CVS’s website. 

But Omnicare and other pharmacies share the same issues that range from staffing levels to low starting pay for technicians, Jerominski said. 

“It’s not specific to Omnicare, the problems they were expressing were the same problems I’m hearing across the country. It’s ubiquitous across all major chains,” Jerominski said. “You can only ask a company to support you for so long. … This is the reason why the walkouts happened. They finally said ‘No, we are going to get the help that we demand.'” 

The Pharmacy Guild will now work to strike a union contract with CVS to address the concerns of Omnicare workers in Las Vegas. Jerominski said those employees want consistent work schedules that guarantee pharmacy technicians 40 hours a week year-round.

“You can’t retain individuals with a skill set and a family, especially with the stress level that this job has, if you don’t even just guarantee them their 40 hours,” Jerominski told CNBC. 

The Pharmacy Guild is seeing momentum build in other parts of the country. Pharmacy staff at two retail stores in Rhode Island have officially confirmed that they filed to unionize with the guild, according to Jerominski.

CVS’s headquarters is based in the state.


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