MORGANTOWN — The impact of closing the Viatris plant in Morgantown could last for several years, said John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at WVU.
Meanwhile, the United Steelworkers union continues talks with Viatris to either keep the plant open or secure a satisfactory severance package.
The former Mylan plant — the Mylan sign still stands in front of the building complex — employs about 1,500 people, with about 850 of them members of USW Local 8-957. USW Local President Joseph Gouzd has estimated that the union’s contribution to the economy in wages totals $60 million.
Deskins said he hasn’t done any specific calculations, but the bureau estimates the total north-central West Virginia workforce — Monongalia, Marion, Preston and Harrison counties — at 110,000. So the 1,500 jobs lost at the Viatris plant would exceed 1% of the workforce.
That’s a significant number when employment growth has been less than 1% a year. “It’s a big deal,” he said.
They’re good-paying jobs, well above average, he said. “So the impact will be disproportionally high. … It’s going to have an outsized impact on the economy.”
The ripple effects — the indirect and induced impacts — from the lost spending could lead to a total job loss of more than 2,000, perhaps up to 2,500, he said. “It could take the north-central economy two or three years to bounce back from this.”
Deskins said that while he has no inside knowledge, he knows government and civic leaders are trying to find a buyer for the plant in order to keep it open. And while the impact could last for a few years, the area will be OK in the long run.
“North-central West Virginia is one of the two clear standout regions in West Virginia,” he said. “We have positive momentum. We have population growth. Over the long run we have job growth. We have a more diversified economy.
“We have a more attractive economic landscape in terms of human capital and other factors,” he continued. “And I think we’re still going to be a good place to live and a good place to grow and invest in the long run, despite this hurdle that we’re facing right now.”
Jess Kamm, communications director for the USW International in Pittsburgh, said the union has been pursuing two tracks.
One is bargaining over the effects of the decision to close the facility. This negotiation is one of the last protections of the union contract, she said. “We’re in the midst of that process.”
They’ve exchanged proposals and “talks are ongoing.” Details remain in flux and are confidential at this point, she said.
“The goal there is to make sure that the company does right by these folks, to make sure that the severance reflects the dedication and hard work so many have put in for so long, and really helped this company succeed.”
The other track is trying to keep the plant open.
“We’re doing everything we can to save these jobs,” she said. “That has involved a whole host of conversations.”
Kamm said those talks have been at the state and federal level. That included a virtual fly-in with more than a dozen members of Congress. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., participated in that and commented on it briefly for a previous report.
The USW, Kamm said, has a Rapid Response Department that gathers signatures for petitions to put pressure on elected officials. One of those is directed at Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., the other to Gov. Jim Justice.
They’ve also done some public outreach, she said, in the form of a billboard at University Town Centre and in a video circulating on social media. The media is just over 4 minutes long and can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY7CIGc4MxQ.
They are also working behind the scenes to help find a buyer, Kamm said. “Ultimately that decision is up to Viatris.”
Meanwhile, they also are connecting members with resources, should the jobs be lost.
“We would prefer to save jobs at the plant,” she said. “A lot of these folks have been at the plant for a number of years [Gouzd has said a minimum of 12]. They were committed and dedicated employees who were really proud of the work that they did. These weren’t just jobs, they were careers.”
The Dominion Post last Monday asked Justice about his efforts. Justice said that WorkForce West Virginia and the Commerce Department have both been involved.
“I can promise you everybody is working this, and working as hard as we possibly can. We’ve not found a solution yet,” he said. “We have tried and we are going to continue to try in every way.”
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