It’s Only Business, Nothing Personal, in Chicago Pharmacy Battle
By George Anderson
The plot line reads like some crime family drama taken from Chicago in the 1920s.
One outfit, the strongest in city, is beset by internal conflict and seeks to sort out its own mess to avoid being seen as weak in the street and to prevent competitors from moving in on its business.
Another, sensing that the time may be ripe to gain some new territory, wastes no time trying to take advantage of its rival’s perceived vulnerability.
In yet another twist, a smaller gang sits back to wait and see what happens between its two larger rivals.
The story described above is not one about Murder Incorporated or a battle of Mafioso families. It is, however, a dramatic summary of the very real and modern day battle for pharmacy share taking place in the Chicagoland market.
As the story begins, Walgreens pharmacists who cite working conditions and staffing practices that put the welfare of patients at risk as their major gripes, threaten and then go out on strike. In total, about 1,200 pharmacists at 400 Walgreens in Illinois and northwest Indiana are involved.
John Heinbockel, an analyst for Goldman Sachs, calls the decision to strike, “a surprisingly aggressive move” adding “both sides have way too much to lose and too little to gain in a work stoppage.”
Next, Walgreens’ rival, Jewel-Osco, runs what a spokesperson tells the Chicago Tribune is “a special ad” to alert area consumers that its pharmacists are on the job at 200 or so drugstores in the market and 28 of those are 24/7 operations. The ads provide contact phone numbers for customers who may need assistance.
As Osco gets ready to move in, dissent pops up among the ranks of the strikers. Up to 200 of the Walgreens pharmacists, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, belonging to the National Pharmacists Association, resign from the union rather than go out on strike.
The story has one more possible twist. CVS, a relatively new entrant in the Chicago market (Walgreens is the market leader with a 54 percent share), plans nothing special in light of the strike at Walgreens.
“We don’t believe the current circumstances of any competitor require any special plans on our part,” said CVS spokesman Todd Andrews.
Moderator’s Comment: What do you make of what’s going on in the Chicago retail pharmacy business? –
George Anderson – Moderator
- Walgreens rival pounces – Chicago Tribune
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- Pharmacists break ranks – Chicago Sun-Times