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It's Still No Deal for Walgreens, Pharmacists, but Many Are Returning to Work

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Negotiations this week between pharmacists at Chicago-area Walgreens drug stores and the Walgreen Co., based here, failed to result in a new agreement, meaning that the pharmacists' strike, which began July 6, will continue. Despite the strike, a sizable number of pharmacists are back on the job, although the two sides disagree on how many.

According to a statement from Chuck Sauer, executive director of the Naperville, Ill.-based National Pharmacists Association, which represents the pharmacists, "Walgreens irresponsibly refuses to address serious safety risks due to inadequate staffing at its pharmacies." Sauer added that the company appeared to be more interested in destroying the union and turning its pharmacies into "assembly lines" than in reaching an agreement. "This work stoppage…will continue until Walgreens stops putting profits ahead of the patients it is supposed to serve," he said.

The pharmacists' prior contract expired June 12. They went on strike after turning down a proposed contract with a 20 percent salary increase over four years to $100,000 a year. The salary was not at issue, say the pharmacists, who have demanded, along with higher staffing levels, better-trained technicians, among other improvements. The company denies union complaints that its drug stores are understaffed or that overworked pharmacists could make errors that might jeopardize patient safety.

"There's been tentative agreement on many issues," Walgreens spokeswoman Tiffani Bruce told Progressive Grocer, "but the two sides remain apart." Bruce added that in 11 meetings between the company and the National Pharmacists Association, the union "has never raised patient safety as a concern." No future talks are currently scheduled, she noted.

Since the strike began, Bruce said that 537 of the 1,027 pharmacists involved have resigned their union membership and returned to work. The National Pharmacists Association puts the number at about 420.
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