Pharmacists seek increased staffing, higher pay to ensure patient/employee safety – Daily News

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Pharmacists employed by the Ralphs and Albertsons/Vons/Pavilions supermarket chains rallied Monday, June 27 in Long Beach, claiming they’re understaffed, overworked, underpaid and facing potential security risks.

Some 100 pharmacists, along with grocery workers and community supporters, converged on a Ralphs at 6290 Pacific Coast Highway to get their message out.

They are among an estimated 650 Central and Southern California pharmacists, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. Their three-year labor contract expired March 6.

One pharmacist said the lack of adequate staffing is “taxing on everyone, both mentally and energy-wise.” (Photo courtesy of UFCW)

The union said the grocery companies have failed to forge a contract agreement that values the “hard work and sacrifice” of the essential pharmacists, even though the companies raked in hefty profits during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to do so.

In a statement issued Monday, Ralphs said it is committed to reaching an agreement that boosts wages and retains quality healthcare benefits and a pension for retirement while also keeping medication and health services affordable for customers and patients.

“Ralphs is proud of our pharmacy associates and the health care services they provide to help our customers live their best lives,” the company said.

Staffing shortage

Tim Rifenberg, who works as a floater pharmacist at 20 pharmacies throughout Orange County, said the pharmacists’ biggest concern is safety because “we don’t have enough people.”

“Pharmacies get robbed at night when people are working alone,” he said. “Criminals see opportunities.”

Rifenberg, 65, of San Clemente said the supermarket chains have yet to hire additional pharmacy workers at any of the stores where he works.

“We provide about four to five different functions all day long and often don’t get a break and just a 30-minute lunch during a 12-hour shift,” he said. “It’s taxing on everyone, both mentally and energy-wise.”

California’s “No Pharmacist Left Alone” legislation requires that when a pharmacist is the only employee in a pharmacy that’s open to the public, the pharmacy must make another employee available to assist the pharmacist.

The bill addresses concerns that inadequate staffing impairs professional judgment and the ability of pharmacists to properly do their jobs.

Voy Yik, who works part time as a pharmacist at the Ralphs in Long Beach, said he was scheduled to work a 12:30-to-9 p.m. shift Monday, but would be working alone after 5:30.

“It’s hard because the phone is ringing and sometimes a busload of people will come in at once, and then you also get people dropping off and picking up orders,” the 50-year-old Buena Park resident said. “How can they expect one person to manage all of that?”

Yik said mistakes could easily happen when one employee has that much on their plate.

“We’re supposed to be 100% correct all the time,” he said. “But we’re all human, and mistakes could happen.”

Current wages are ‘not enough’

The pharmacists currently earn an average of $66.85 an hour, but UFCW said that’s “not enough” amid the current wave of inflation that has boosted the price of gas, groceries and other essential services.

Rifenberg said the supermarket companies have proposed a labor contract that would hike hourly wages $1.05 the first year, followed by a 90-cent hike for each of the remaining two years.

That amounts to a total increase of $2.85, but the pharmacists want considerably more.

“We’re asking for a $5 an hour increase the first year, a $4 increase the second year and a $3 increase the third year,” Rifenberg said. “That would be $12, but we’ve offered to reduce that. We’ve put a few offers on the table. When you factor in inflation … we’re just looking for a pay adjustment that would provide the same income we had a year ago.”

A second rally is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 28 at the Pavilions supermarket at 8969 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood.

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