Biden urged to act on outsourcing of West Virginia jobs

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Labor and advocacy groups are calling on President Joe Biden to save nearly 1,500 jobs at a pharmaceutical plant in West Virginia

Drugmaker Viatris Inc. announced in December it will lay off workers at the Morgantown plant, formerly operated by the generic drug company Mylan. Upjohn and Mylan merged last year to form the new company, which announced it would slash 20% of its workforce worldwide. Viatris is now one of the world’s dominant manufacturers in the generics industry, which has been consolidating for years.

The moves left workers scrambling to find new jobs as the major employer left West Virginia, a state that is often trying to lure new companies to uplift its stagnant economy.

A new campaign led by Our Revolution, a political nonprofit organization founded by Bernie Sanders, urges Biden to use the Defense Production Act to stop U.S.-based Viatris from closing the plant. It also asks Biden to convene a task force of labor groups, local leaders and others to determine how the plant might continue producing pharmaceutical or medical goods.

“Once a new strategy is in place that aligns the plant’s physical assets with our national interests, the plant can be retrofitted as needed and current workers can be rehired,” the letter to the president said.

Viatris spokeswoman Jennifer Mauer issued a statement that “the decision to cease operations at Chestnut Ridge as part of a global, multi-site restructuring initiative was one we did not take lightly and in no way reflects upon the company’s appreciation for the commitment, work ethic and valuable contributions of our employees.”

She added the company’s intent has been to provide “generous comprehensive severance packages” for those being let go. Viatris formed in 2020 and sought incorporation in Delaware, with global centers in Pittsburgh and Hyderabad, India, and Shanghai, China

Some industry groups have lobbied for enhancing the U.S. pharmaceutical supply chain. The Association for Accessible Medicine in April 2020 proposed a blueprint for the federal government to establish a list of essential medicines for the U.S. and expand domestic production.

But the loss of the Morgantown plant won’t have a major impact on domestic production of generic medicine, said Rachel Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Association for Accessible Medicine.

Our Revolution’s letter to Biden said the Morgantown workers include union members, researchers and scientists “who together can produce more than 18 billion doses of life-saving generic drugs each year.” But Schwartz said nearly 150 manufacturing sites remain nationwide, together producing more than 60 billion of generic medicine doses annually.

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