The butterfly effect of Target pharmacy staff unionization
Monday, September 21, 2015
While speaking in a somewhat different context, Abraham Lincoln once said, "I am glad to see that a system of labor prevails under which laborers can strike when they want to." I guess certain Target pharmacy employees from Brooklyn, New York, have similar feelings as they became the first in Target's history unionize.
Their request was approved Sept. 8 by the National Labor Relations Board (a U.S. government agency that oversees and responds to requests for union representation). This decision has occurred right on the heels of one of the largest and most unexpected retail pharmacy buyouts in recent history in which CVS agreed to purchase all 1,600 Target pharmacies for nearly $2 billion in June.
A small group of less than a dozen pharmacy workers banded together in this deal due to fears, according to one anonymous employee, about "layoffs and wage cuts." Because the CVS deal has not officially received federal approval yet, the workers could still technically unionize as Target employees. Target, of course, was none too thrilled about the approval stating they "believe that our team members do not need third-party representation."
It seems a little ironic that they still call them "team members" since they just sold their team — and the whole league for that matter — to CVS.
Be that as it may, what should we think about this latest little development? I'm a bit ambivalent about the whole thing.
On the one hand, I admire the courage and fraternity of this little league of pharmacy friends. They know what this deal with CVS might mean. They see the proverbial writing on the wall, and they aren't intending to just lie down and lose their jobs quietly.
On the other hand, I guess I wonder, "What's the point?" We all know what is going to happen here. You don't spend $2 billion buying a pharmacy chain without expecting to make some of that back through closures and layoffs, while still capitalizing on greater economies of scale. What good will it do to strike if there is no pharmacy left to work for? You either need to embrace your new employer, and all that it means, or start looking for a new situation.
But maybe there is another possibility here.
Do you remember the butterfly effect theory? You know the one. The theory suggests that the tiny, insignificant flapping of a butterfly's wings might alter the very course of a huge weather pattern such as a tornado.
Maybe this isn't just a little band of employees after all. Maybe these few pharmacy employees in Brooklyn are really the butterfly wings. They may be nothing more than a whisper today, but they could generate a tornado of a response that could change everything that is wrong with certain aspects of this profession.
Could this little symbolic gesture possibly cause certain employers to rethink their approach to their working conditions? Could this tiny network of nine employees signal a wakeup call to an industry that has lately focused more on metrics than medicine and more on profits than patients?
It's just one microunion in a small Target store, I know. But could it cause a ripple effect throughout the chain and throughout the industry as well?
To be honest, I've never been in favor of unionizing. I would much prefer that pharmacists and their employers worked together for solutions to balance the need for profitability and great patient care.
But who knows? Maybe this is the start of something big. Maybe years from now there will be a pharmacy story that starts with, "It all began in a little city called Brooklyn ..."
The butterfly has flapped her wings.
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