OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Walgreens pharmacy employees across the nation have planned a walkout starting Monday to protest the “poor working conditions.”

Dr. Bled Tanoe used to work as a Walgreens pharmacist in Oklahoma City for five years. She left the job in August 2021.

She said she enjoyed how intimate the job was. She got to know most of her patients on a personal level.

Dr. Bled Tanoe protesting outside of an Oklahoma City Walgreens.
Dr. Bled Tanoe protesting outside of an Oklahoma City Walgreens. Photo courtesy: Dr. Bled Tanoe.

“Throughout this whole process, there have been cries out to the companies to make changes and that has not really happened,” said Dr. Tanoe.

Dr. Tanoe told KFOR she feels as if Walgreens pharmacy employees have never had a voice.

She added the walkout, starting October 9 and running through October 11, is not for better pay, but a safer work environment.

“We do not want our patients to be without a medication. We want to be there for them. But we realize that safe access to medication is better than any type of access, and we’re fighting for safe access. It’s not about money,” explained Dr. Tanoe. “What we see is we are poor in so many directions.”

According to CNN, Walgreens cut training hours for new technicians.

A representative from Walgreens told CNN the company has increased training for new pharmacists but has put a pause on what it called “non-critical” training during the busy immunization season.

“I think the company has to trust the people on site. We as pharmacists and technicians know what is important for our patients. What we see is that there are people who don’t work in a pharmacy who make decisions about how to operate, and that’s very difficult. I think it’s really time those decisions are put back into the hands of the pharmacists whose license is actually on the line,” said Dr. Tanoe. “We know what is best for our patients. We know how to run a pharmacy to make sure that it’s overall safe.”

She said the company provides employees with “metrics and goals” rather than putting an emphasis on helping patients.

Walgreens representatives told CNN there have never been corporate quotas and that all task-based metrics for retail pharmacy staff as part of team members’ performance reviews were eliminated last year.

The company said it has made $265 million in incremental investments in its nationwide pharmacy team this fiscal year and has created dedicated positions to manage inventory and administrative tasks for pharmacists.

CNN has reportedly confirmed pharmacy closures at some Walgreens locations in Arizona, Washington, Massachusetts and Oregon, and pharmacy staff and customers are posting to social media that other closures are taking place throughout the country.

However, Walgreens would not go on the record with KFOR if it expects any pharmacies to close during the walkout.

“Those who walk out are very brave because in a climate where the economy is so difficult and people need to feed a family, that is very powerful and shows you the gravity of the issue,” stated Dr. Tanoe. “I want to say that it’s not going to be enough until we actually see our state regulators really stepping into the situation and really analyze, because it is about patient safety. It is a public safety concern, and it would take more than a walk out to make a change. It would take changes of law.”

Walgreens Corporate Communications representative, Kris Lathan told KFOR, “Our pharmacy teams work tirelessly to serve our communities — from administering life-saving vaccines, to helping patients receive prescriptions and health screenings — especially this time of year, during which we see some of the highest rates of respiratory illnesses and seasonal vaccinations. The last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members, and we share their pride in this work — while recognizing it has been a very challenging time.”

Lathan said the company is making significant investments in pharmacist wages and hiring bonuses to attract/retain talent in harder to staff locations.

“We understand the immense pressures felt across the U.S. in retail pharmacy right now. We are engaged and listening to the concerns raised by some of our team members. We are committed to ensuring that our entire pharmacy team has the support and resources necessary to continue to provide the best care to our patients while taking care of their own well being,” added Lathan.

Dr. Tanoe said she wants patients to know how tough of a decision this was for those involved.

“The entire system is broken. Even though it’s within the chain, it’s affecting all of us. I just want them to know that we are here for them. We see them, we want to do right by them. But this is beyond our control,” said Dr. Tanoe. “[Walgreens is] very much about profit and greed. Healthcare is about safety. Healthcare is about patient health. Healthcare is about the people who take care of your patient.”

In addition to taking part in advocacy and supporting those who walkout, Dr. Tanoe said she has created #pizzaisnotworking.

Dr. Tanoe said she started the hashtag movement because when something would go wrong in her department, she would buy everyone pizza to make up for it.

“I realized this needed more than just food,” she said. “We need actual change.”

Dr. Tanoe works full-time and is a mother of two. She said she wishes she could do more for pharmacy workers, but for now, she will remain in their corner and fight for a better work environment.