MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A petition on behalf of United Steelworkers Local 8-957 members at the Morgantown Viatris plant would appear to be a final effort to ask lawmakers to take action in order to save the Chestnut Ridge Road facility formerly operated as Mylan Pharmaceuticals.
Since the late 1960’s Mylan has operated the facility that now employs about 1,500. About 850 are members of the United Steelworkers Local 8-957. Union officials say 850 union workers will lose their jobs if the plant closes as scheduled July 31, 2021. The closure is part of the Viatris plan to cut $1 billion in costs by the end of 2024.
In March, union members traveled to Washington D.C. and met with dozens of members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. Then, union members called the plant closure a “national security” issue and wanted the Defense Production Act invoked.
During the legislative session, The West Virginia House of Delegates and Senate passed resolutions calling for elected officials, labor organizations, industry leaders and economic development representatives to take action. Mon County Delegate Barbara Fleischauer even asked her peers to arrange a tour of the facility or meet with some of the workers.
President of the United Steelworkers Local 8-957, Joe Gouzd tells WAJR News lawmakers likely won’t get a tour if they request one.
“The United Steel Workers Union has asked for a tour of the facility for the past two years,” Gouzd said,” Each time we’ve asked to enter the facility we have been told by corporate they are unable to participate in our request.”
Gouzd said some of the work is being done in Morgantown will move to Viatris facilities in India where record numbers of the virus are being reported daily and the country is running out of oxygen and therapeutics. Since the closure was announced in December, union leaders and lawmakers have persistently questioned why the facility can’t be repurposed.
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The facility could be retrofitted to make a number of different things,” Gouzd said,” Perhaps rubber gloves or N-95 masks.”
Shortly after the closure was announced Governor Jim Justice conducted a meeting with Viatris officials. Justice said then the Viatris management team was committed to finding someone to operate the facility. At the time, the governor said he had no advance knowledge of their intention to close the plant and wanted an opportunity to work with executives to stop the closure.
“We’re asking Governor Jim Justice to keep our jobs here and let us manufacture medicines for the National Defense Act or the Veterans Administration.”
Also in December, Viatris officials said severance packages would be available and negotiated individually with each employee. According Gouzd, with time running out there has been little information provided by the company leaving even more questions for employees and families.
“There have been very few talks regarding the severance,’ Gouzd said,” I fact, corporate has been quite evasive to give any kind of facts or a fair resolution of the severance.”
To use a sports analogy, the clock is running down in the fourth quarter and employees at Viatris in Morgantown are running out of chances to keep the plant from closing.
“That’s where we’re at today,” Gouzd said,” We need help politically, we need help economically, we need help and we’re not ashamed to ask for it,” Gouzd said.”