Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist-Only Union Chartered in California

Magazine article Drug Topics

Pharmacist-Only Union Chartered in California

Article excerpt

The country's biggest pharmacy union may have been born on May 1. That's when the United Food & Commercial Workers chartered Local 24, a pharmacist-only unit that covers California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Based on state pharmacy association estimates, the potential membership is 5,000 to 8,000. The new local expects to pull all pharmacists out of existing UFCW locals.

"We're going to be speaking for the majority of employee pharmacists in the southwest," said Ralph Lubick, chief architect of Local 24 and likely to be elected its first president. Lubick heads UFCW's professional division in the Southwest.

Although Lubick refused to say how many members he expects, he promised a tough stance in contract negotiations with Thrifty Drug Stores. Thrifty's three-year Southern California pharmacy contract expires this summer.

"We have to hang tough," Lubick said. "Employers have to recognize that pharmacists are, indeed, going to be in one big local."

Not if Thrifty can help it. The chain has more than 1,000 stores in Local 24 territory. Most Thrifty and Thrifty, Jr. pharmacies are staffed by members of existing UFCW locals. Industrial relations manager Christian Bement said the chain will negotiate the next three-year contract with the same UFCW locals it talked with in 1989.

Smith's Food King and other chains with a few food-pharmacy combo stores are the only employers to recognize Local 24 so far. "It (recognition) is a gift from the food industry to the UFCW, their main union," Bement said, "but the pharmacy numbers are insignificant. They (Local 24) have asked me to voluntarily recognize them, and I have so far refused. It would provide the union with increased bargaining strength. If they can get all of the pharmacists in this one local, it would be very difficult to find replacements in the event of a strike. They could tie employers in knots."

That, of course, is exactly what Lubick had in mind when he formed Local 24. "If pharmacists aren't happy with an offer, a potential strike statewide will have far more impact than a purely regional action." A few pharmacists belong to the Guild for Professional Pharmacists or the Service Employees International Union, but most unionized pharmacists in the Southwest belong to one of more than a dozen UFCW locals.

Pharmacists are heavily outnumbered in the UFCW. Each local includes a few R.Ph.s scattered among medical technologists, food indusry workers, and other trades that have nothing to do with health care.

Technicians, pharmacy management versus store management, and other issues vital to pharmacists don't mean much to grocery clerks. …

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