Workers from some of the nation's biggest pharmacy chains, from CVS to Walgreens, have planned another "walkout" starting Monday as they continue to plead for better working conditions.
They're calling it "pharmageddon," Shane Jerominski, a licensed pharmacist for over a decade who is helping coordinate the latest protest, told FOX Business.
From Monday through Wednesday workers at Walgreens, CVS and Rite Aid have pledged to call in sick, according to Jerominski. It comes on the heels of a protest earlier this month when Walgreens employees at 200 of its nearly 9,000 locations called out sick. Shortly before that, CVS employees in at least a dozen Kansas stores didn't show up to work in a separate walkout.
Jerominski says workers are demanding a slate of things to ease the onslaught of duties they have taken on in recent years. Some of the biggest demands include guaranteed hours and better pay for technicians. They also want pharmacists and pharmacy managers to have a direct say in the scheduling.
The hope is that these changes will lead to better staffed stores, improve their work-life balance and reduce the margin of error that they say could impact patient safety.
"We are a force to be reckoned with and we demand more from those who would see us and those we care for suffer," a letter sent to Walgreens staff from organizers of "pharmaggedon" said.
It's hard to pinpoint how many people will be involved in this latest effort, according to Jerominski. However, according to a poll posted on his social media page, The Accidental Pharmacist, over 2,000 people said, "I'm all for this no matter what."
An additional 1,442 people said they would as long as "hundreds to thousands of pharmacists and technicians" participate, according to screenshots of the poll seen by FOX Business.
Aside from asking people to call out sick, Jerominski is also trying to organize protests in front of CVS and Walgreens headquarters this week to make their movement more visible.
Jerominski doesn't consider himself a main organizer of this effort. However, he believes he is in a good position to help given the reach his social media account has and his background working as a pharmacist for Walgreens and CVS before transitioning to an independent retail pharmacy later in his career.
The Accidental Pharmacist Facebook page has 122,000 followers, most of whom are pharmacists, technicians and other health care workers. Jerominksi says he gets direct messages "constantly about working conditions."
The pharmacist who organized the first Walgreens walkout earlier this month and spoke to FOX Business on the condition of anonymity, previously warned that workers would escalate the matter with a pharmacy-wide protest if their issues weren't addressed.
The issue is that major pharmacy chains have been unable to effectively staff their stores and pharmacies. At the same time, they have ramped up vaccine appointments, which made pharmacies fall behind on filling prescriptions, according to the pharmacist.
"Our stores are still thousands of prescriptions behind. Our patients are still going days, weeks or even months without their needed medicine. And they're pretending that there's not a problem," the pharmacist, told FOX Business Friday. "Until they acknowledge that there's an actual problem and work to address the actual problem… we have to keep pushing."
Jerominksi said he heard about this problem from other workers too. He also reviewed internal documents from some CVS stores, seen by FOX Business, indicating that they have a week's worth of backlog.
"It could be forever before a patient ends up getting their medication," he said.
But that's only part of the problem, according to Jerominski.
"Every time the pharmacist steps away from their filling the checking prescriptions, you introduce the chance for error," he said.
The pharmacist who organized the Walgreens walkout agrees previously telling FOX Business that, "in an industry where a missed decimal point, a missed number or a letter could mean life or death for a patient, it really becomes a dangerous situation when you're understaffed and overworked."
Both the pharmacist and Jerominski said that since the margins are higher on vaccines, they have been the priority.
"It used to be just during flu season, but now it's all year long, whether it's COVID boosters or RSV," Jerominski said.
Amid the growing issues in the industry, a spokesperson for Rite Aid told FOX Business that the company is comitted to "providing safe, productive and supportive work environments for all our associates, including our dedicated pharmacists, who serve our communities by providing vaccines, prescriptions and day-to-day guidance on whole health."
The company says its efforts over the past few years and in recent months to improve the work-life balance, as well as working conditions for pharmacists, "is evidence of our commitment to the team."
A spokesperson for CVS said it's not seeing any "unusual activity regarding unplanned pharmacy closures or pharmacist walkouts" and that it's working with its pharmacists to directly address any of their concerns.
The spokesperson added that the company is working to develop a "scalable action plan to support both our pharmacists and our customers, that can be put in place in markets where support may be needed."
Walgreens says it took "a number of steps in our pharmacies to ensure that our teams can concentrate on providing optimal patient care." This includes enhancing technology and centralizing many of its operations to help maintain "appropriate workloads."
Still, the company noted that it's continuing to focus on how it recruits, retains and rewards pharmacy staff.