Tim Wentworth, CEO of Express Scripts.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Incoming Walgreens CEO Tim Wentworth on Thursday briefly praised the company’s pharmacy staff, but made no mention of the three-day protest walkouts they held this week over poor working conditions.
The walkouts reflect rising dissatisfaction among pharmacy employees, who have complained for years about having to grapple with understaffing and burdensome work expectations imposed by corporate management. The Covid pandemic worsened those issues, with new duties such as testing and vaccinations stretching employees even thinner.
The growing labor pressure is just one of several challenges Wentworth will have face when he steps into the chief executive role on Oct. 23.
He will also have to grapple with a profit squeeze due to falling demand for Covid products and Walgreens’ rocky transition from being a major drugstore chain to a large health-care company.
Wentworth, during the company’s earnings call Thursday, shared a story about how an employee at a store in Rochester, New York, “professionally and cheerfully” helped deliver a critical medication prescription for his mother.
“It was the kind of experience I appreciate and everyone deserves,” Wentworth said in his first remarks as incoming CEO since Walgreens announced his appointment on Tuesday.
He said committed pharmacists and other team members can collectively “improve the lives of each person who walks through our door in my mom’s hometown Walgreens in Rochester, and in every store we operate.”
The experiences he’s had with employees made his decision to join Walgreens “frankly, an easy one,” Wentworth added.
His remarks partly echoed a statement the company issued earlier this week in response to the walkouts.
A Walgreens spokesperson touted the company’s pharmacy teams in the statement, noting that they work “tirelessly to serve our communities.” B
ut the spokesperson also acknowledged that the “last few years have required an unprecedented effort from our team members.”
Walgreens is engaged and listening to the concerns of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, the spokesperson said.
But it’s unclear whether management has made any changes in response to any of those employees’ demands, which include more staff, payroll transparency, advance notice of staff and schedule changes, and mandatory training for new hires, among other items.
In addition to filling and verifying prescriptions, pharmacy employees often have to juggle patient phone calls, administer a growing number of vaccines this fall, work with insurance companies on issues like co-pays and reimbursements, perform rapid Covid and flu testing and deal with angry customers who are seeing longer wait times due to understaffing.