Thoughts on the Walmart Layoffs

Richard Waithe
Jun 29, 2019 · 12 min read
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I can’t even begin to understand how tough it must be for those impacted by the Walmart news. I’m sure if you’re reading this by now, you’ve likely heard the numbers, but according to a Bloomberg article:

“A person familiar with the decision said the pharmacy cuts will represent less than 3% of all health and wellness staffers in the U.S. According to posts on LinkedIn and independent message boards frequented by Walmart employees, that could include as many as 40% of senior pharmacists, along with cuts for some new hires and reductions in part-time staffers.”

I spent some time over the past two days reading comments on the Rx Radio Instagram and Facebook page as well as a few reddit threads to get a feel for the reactions of the industry and people impacted. I am writing this article to provide some of my thoughts on what happened, what I would do if this happened to me, and what I think the future looks like going forward.

Should we have expected this?

But as we saw, this came to an abrupt end with CVS’s acquisition of Target’s Pharmacy business. Then, that overlap…gone. Tech hours? Much lower. Some pharmacists who had less then 40 hours a week had their benefits at risk. See, companies like CVS and Walgreens appear to operate extremely thin with their payroll. After transitioning my store from a Target to a CVS, I changed companies and went to Publix Pharmacy. Another pharmacy that was touted as a great place to work, and because of similar reasons as Target. But, boom. Sometime between 2016 and 2017, they had a large change to the way they allocated tech hours, and some stores were left with less than 50% of their usual tech count. It is my understanding they brought in a company to evaluate their productivity and how they were allocating human resources against those, resulting in drastic cuts to tech hours. While this didn't make major headlines and there were no layoffs, this had a major impact to many Publix employees. Some technicians were forced to pick up store side hours to try to get to 40 hours a week. In worse scenarios, some were forced to find work elsewhere because their store didn’t have hours even outside the pharmacy to lend, and those technicians had families to feed and bills to pay.

With my above experiences, unfortunately, hearing about the massive Walmart layoff doesn’t seem like a shock, but more of a “oh it happened to them too,” feeling. Now, don’t get me wrong, this Walmart news is definitely different. Especially if the allegations are true that 40% of those let go were in fact “senior” pharmacists. That indicates not only the potential to run a lot leaner with human resources at the pharmacy level, but they also may be looking to lower the standard wage of a pharmacist, or at least lower than what those senior pharmacists were making.

Pharmacy ain’t what it used to be: No S%*#

Pharmacy Organizations

Understanding that every organization and business is made up of individuals, there isn’t a soul in the pharmacy industry that doesn’t feel for those impacted, even the decision makers at Walmart who had to make this call. But let’s say APhA was like, “guys, we have to do something.” What would they do? Walk down to Walmart’s headquarters and demand change? Organize a protest outside the office where only a handful of pharmacists would likely show up? What immediate action do you expect? And these are not rhetorical questions, I would literally like to hear from you and see these ideas presented in a way that’s actionable. What happened at Walmart, and previously Target and Publix as I explained, is not any one of these organization’s fault. While this is an absolute tragedy, we can’t waste time on pointing fingers and figuring out who’s fault it is. Stop complaining. TAKE ACTION. Don’t want to take action with a national organization? Try your State Board of Pharmacy.

On a separate note, would it kill APhA to draft a response, no it wouldn’t. But I also understand that companies this large have many policies and procedures in place on how to handle political and other PR matters. We really don’t know the exact reason why there hasn’t been a response and it could be a combination of a few things. Hopefully, we’ll hear something soon. |Update: see APhA’s response here.|

What would I do?

  1. First thing I would do is post on LinkedIn. Especially being that the news is so widespread it likely wouldn’t be a shock to anyone. I’d try to reach out to my network there (and other social media platforms) to see if I can get any leads.
  2. I’d do a typical online search for open jobs in my area and apply for hours, days at a time, until I felt as though I covered my area.
  3. I’d drive to independent pharmacies to see if I could support them in anyway, whether it be PRN, part-time, or MTM services. Who knows, you may run into an independent who was looking for a pharmacist.
  4. I would apply to staffing companies that provide relief to organizations with PRN staffing needs.
  5. In the case that I needed money ASAP and I may need to buy myself another month, I would start selling things I don’t need on eBay. You’d be surprised at the preowned things people actually buy on there. I actually believe the average person has about $1-$2K of stuff that can sell over a month on ebay that would be able to buy you sometime in landing a new job. Don’t have an ebay account? Create one. Don’t know how much your stuff is worth? Go to ebay, search your item and once you find it, or the closest thing to it, filter your results to see what has sold in the past 3 months and set your price using the prices you see people actually paying. Use your phone to take a picture of the item and post. Rinse and repeat.
  6. If my situation was not heavily dependent on the need to pay bills and find a new job immediately, I’d take the time to reflect on if pharmacy is something I’m still passionate about. With the way things are now with social media and the internet, someone could make a living literally doing anything they are passionate about doing. Passionate about baking? Create a personal brand around baking cookies and if you do it right, you could create a sustainable business that could replace your pharmacist salary (or more) by just, you guessed it, baking.

I’m sure the above are what most people would likely expect to do, but even if it helps one person, that’s all that matters to me.

Some responses to other comments:

“Will other Retail Pharmacies follow?”

“Will Pharmacy techs take over?”

“I’m a pharmacy student and this is terrifying.”

“How do we change the profession to ensure this doesn’t happen.”

“We need to unionize!”

“The $4 Generic list killed Pharmacy.”

The Future of the Market

What should the industry do?

With all the negativity that one can find on the internet about pharmacy, I think it’s important to also realize all the opportunities that are now available for pharmacists to have a role in and how there are new ways and opportunities for pharmacists to have an impact on patient care popping up every year. I also think it is important to fill your social media feeds with positivity. That’s also one thing I really like about the pharmacist slack channel. It’s a group of pharmacists really looking to advance the profession in different ways. One member, David Berkowitz, responded with a comment to the Walmart news that I think was really powerful.

“Failure” is important. Personally I measure my success through my family, relationships and learnings. I am hopeful that as a profession we become defined by what we do next.

As you could see, I could go on with my thoughts about the future and why what happened at Walmart is devastating. But, I think it’s important we look forward and figure out what to do next in advancing our profession.

Thanks for reading.

Take care,

Richard

Connect with me on any of your favorite social media platforms, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article and wether you agree or disagree with my comments.

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