Friday, September 3, 2010

Merck's West Point, PA USW 10-86 Workers Should Take Note: An Ominous Sign

It seems -- exactly as I predicted -- more and more of the vaccine production capacity until now exclusively handled at West Point, Pennsylvania will be transferred to the non-union site in Durham, North Carolina, by 2011. The West Point facility's USW membership had been working without a collective-bargaining agreement for a good chunk of the early summer, and only recently received the signing bonuses promised by Merck in the June 2010 contract, as signed.

Then there are the persistent rumors that FDA is presently inspecting West Point, and making detailed findings. I am saddened by this confluence of events, but the writing was on the wall when Merck didn't agree to a new contract as the old one expired -- and then only signed a weaker (from the USW's perspective) three year deal, rather than the more typical five year deal (for "core" union shop production operations, across other industries).

In any event, here is the local Durham, North Carolina Triangle Business Journal report -- do go read it all:

. . . .In 2004, Merck & Co., headquartered in Whitehouse Station, N.J., announced it would open a vaccine plant in Durham’s Treyburn Corporate Park, where it would invest $300 million and hire 200 people. Two years later, Merck announced an expansion that would add another $100 million in investment and 60 people. Then, in June 2008, Merck announced another expansion, adding $300 million in investment and 180 jobs.

The total amount promised so far: 440 jobs and $700 million in investment by 2011. [Merck's Durham Plant Manager John] Wagner also hinted that more expansion in Durham could be in the company’s future because it has plenty of land to build on at Treyburn. . . .

The jobs at the Merck Maurice Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing range from production operators to technicians to scientists. The new hires have been a mix of recent college graduates, industry veterans in the area and a few transfers from other company facilities.

Merck currently makes eight of the 11 vaccines that pediatricians recommend for children and nine of 10 vaccines recommended for adults. . . .

Let us hope I am wrong; I fear I am not. There have also been signs that Merck might exit its Hep B vaccine franchise, albeit tenuous ones at that.

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