Walmart also agreed in late 2022 to pay $3.1 billion as its share of an opioid-related legal settlement, which is adding to its legal costs this year.
At a meeting in May, senior Walmart field leadership asked 20 market leaders — directors of 10 to 15 stores in an area — to start asking pharmacists to voluntarily reduce their base salary hours, the source, who attended the meeting, told Reuters. For example, a pharmacist could go from an 80-hour, two-week pay period to one lasting 64 or 72 hours, the source said.
The market leaders who attended the meeting represented Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, though the move was presented as a nationwide one, the person said.
Leaders were asked to start hiring pharmacists at lower base hours to reduce the pool of pharmacists getting higher salaries, the person said, adding that the moves were being led by Davey Lavergne, Walmart’s vice president of Health and Wellness.
On average, the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retail chain pays its pharmacists more than $140,000 a year, excluding bonuses and incentives, according to Walmart.
Walmart confirmed to Reuters that it was reducing the amount of hours it was offering some pharmacists, citing a dropoff in demand for drugs during the summer and requests from pharmacists for a better work-life balance.
A Walmart spokesperson, Marilee McInnis, said the company was “committed to creating a great place to work” through work-life balance and competitive pay, and was hiring pharmacists as it sees demand for their services grow.
Earlier this year, Walmart scaled back the hours it operates its pharmacies by two hours at more than 4,500 U.S. stores, amid a shortage of pharmacists and pharmacy technicians that began during the pandemic.
Michael Hogue, CEO of the American Pharmacists Association based in Washington, said there was no data to support the assertion that demand for medications falls during the summer and that pharmacists need fewer hours to fill prescriptions.
Shortage of pharmacy technicians
The underlying reason that chain drug stores like Walmart are scaling back pharmacists’ hours is a shortage of pharmacy technicians, Hogue said. Technicians handle tasks such as counting pills, answering phones and stocking shelves, enabling pharmacists to focus on filling prescriptions. But technicians don’t hold pharmacy degrees and are paid less than pharmacists.
According to a study commissioned by the Pharmacy Workforce Center and released in May, nearly 80% of respondents working at chain pharmacies considered the shortage of technicians to be severe or very severe.
At the same time, the growing popularity of diabetes drug medications, which have become popular weight-loss drugs, have further increased workloads. In its latest quarter ended July 31, Walmart said drugs like Ozempic boosted health and wellness sales by percentages in the high teens, but also dragged down profit margins.
The company does not break out the dollar amount in revenues its 5,000 pharmacies, most of which are in rural areas, generate. Pharmacy sales come under the company’s health and wellness business, which comprised 11% of Walmart’s total U.S. revenue last year.
Walmart last year agreed to pay $3.1 billion as part of the nationwide opioid settlement following allegations that it failed to regulate prescriptions of the painkillers.
The settlement includes court-ordered requirements such as developing a controlled-substance dispensing oversight program with an independent compliance officer, an oversight committee, extra policies and procedures, annual training, an anonymous hotline and sending periodic reports to senior management.
Many of these extra steps must be carried out by pharmacists, experts and pharmacists said.
Pharmacists have complained that this is yet another thing to do while filling the same volume of prescriptions with fewer people and work hours, according to posts on Facebook and independent message boards frequented by Walmart employees.