California labor law adds pharmacists
California labor law adds pharmacists
State’s pharmacy association coordinates effort
This month, a new law goes into effect in Calif ornia that adds pharmacists to the employees covered by the state Industrial Welfare Commis sion’s wage order, which provides for breaks, lunch, and maximum work hours. It essentially ensures that pharmacists will get two 10-minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch during their workday, and they will be compensated with overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week. The eight-hour day, five-day week is standard, but pharmacists and their employers do have the flexibility to negotiate alternatives such as a 10-hour day, four-day week.
The legislation was coordinated by the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA), the United Food and Commercial Workers, and the California Retailers Association.
"California pharmacists in chain pharmacies were sometimes working several 10- to 12-hour days back-to-back and were complaining they literally had no time for lunch or bathroom breaks," says Carlo Michelotti, RPh, chief executive officer of CPhA. Michelotti says concern for phar macists was one reason CPhA cosponsored the legislation, but protecting the public interest was even more important.
"We were concerned about increased dispensing errors due to the heavy workloads. We felt that having fatigued people doing highly detail-oriented tasks in heavy-volume practices could perhaps create an opportunity for increased medication errors. So if working conditions were part of that problem, that needed to be addressed. Now, patients no longer need to be concerned their pharmacist is tired or distracted while dispensing their prescriptions."
There are no pharmacists in the California legislature, but Michelotti says lawmakers viewed the situation as a labor issue and were sympathetic to the pharmacists’ concerns.
It actually took three separate bills to make the change. There already was a bill on the table that set forth rules for maximum work hours, but pharmacists weren’t covered because they were viewed as professionals. Senate Bill 651, which was passed and signed into law by Governor Gray Davis, merely added pharmacists to those covered under the rules for working conditions. A provision was tacked onto yet another bill to give the state Board of Pharmacy the statutory authority to implement the regulations.
The legislation was controversial, and some pharmacists did not want anything to do with it. Pharmacists working in different settings had different concerns. Those in institutional settings such as hospitals, for example, did not have the same difficulty with their schedules as did retail pharmacists. Many liked the flexibility of working 12-hour days and then having several days off, and they were concerned the new law with its overtime compensation requirements would have a negative effect.
Michelotti says some hospital pharmacy directors told him they didn’t like the legislation because they felt it treated pharmacists as rank-and-file workers instead of the professionals they are. But he says staff pharmacists, including some at hospitals, have told him they are glad to finally receive compensation for the long hours they put in. "Some of the resistance is based on emotion rather than fact. The controversy may continue until the schedules get sorted out. It is a change, and change doesn’t come easily."
•Carlo Michelotti, RPh, California Pharmacists Association, Sacramento. Telephone: (916) 444-7811.
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