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Gov. Justice, Viatris, give updates on finding Mylan plant buyer, severance talks

MORGANTOWN – The late Milan Puskar used to live on the top floor of what is now the Morgantown Marriott at Waterfront Place. On Tuesday, people who work at the pharmaceutical plant he built across town were coming and going from the Marriott’s ground floor meeting rooms, learning how to apply for federal unemployment benefits as Puskar’s business heirs prepare to close the plant.

The union that represents a bit more than half the plant’s employees – United Steelworkers Local 8-957 – rented space and brought in staff from the Department of Commerce and WorkForce West Virginia to help employees apply for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance, which provides aid to workers who lose their jobs as a result of increased imports.

Viatris – the company created through the merger of Mylan and Upjohn – will close the Chestnut Ridge plant July 31. USW is still in talks with Viatris over a severance package. The union has said it finds the current Viatris offer unacceptable: one week for each year of employment up to a maximum of 26 weeks.

Union and non-union employees are on good terms – non-union workers were also attending the instructional sessions – but it’s been reported that the minimum severance offering of corporate employees exceeds that of collective bargaining unit members who have many years of service beyond their corporate colleagues.

The Dominion Post met people who didn’t wish to talk about their current situation but had 20-30 or more years at the plant.

Some people said that the MYLANONE philosophy did not appear to be in play for the corporate office.

The Dominion Post spoke with Gov. Jim Justice and Viatris on Tuesday about progress on finding a new suitor for the plant, and asked Viatris its view on severance talks.

In an email exchange, Viatris said (we agreed to print their full statement): “Since we first announced the decision to close our Chestnut Ridge facility in Morgantown as part of a global, multi-site restructuring initiative, we have maintained open channels of communication with West Virginia government officials. We have worked diligently to reach out to every potentially interested party that either we or other sources identified, as well as those who proactively contacted us.

“The work to try to identify viable alternatives for the site outside of the company’s network is ongoing, and we continue to remain steadfast in our commitment to continue to welcome discussions with any prospects that could help preserve as many jobs as possible.

“In the meantime, our focus remains treating those impacted fairly and with respect as the closure process continues. The existing union labor contract ratified by the local workforce in 2017 does not contain any severance pay and benefits related to the current conditions facing the Morgantown facility.

“However, we have been clear regarding our intent to provide comprehensive severance packages to impacted employees. The company and the union have been actively engaged in negotiations and the company has put forward a generous proposal for the union’s review.”

Plant workers have previously voiced frustration with Justice and with other elected officials for failing to make any headway in finding a new plant owner, and Justice has voiced frustration regarding the same failure.

On Tuesday, Justice said, “Everybody is working it, and truly working it as hard as they can. … We hold out real hope for a pharmaceutical company that we’re working with.” And they have hopes for other leads Commerce is pursuing.

Justice mentioned last year’s closure of Fairmont Regional Medical Center by its then-owner Alecto,  and the steps he took to keep it open. Admitting it would sound egotistical, he said, “I don’t care what anybody says, I saved that hospital. I am absolutely not going to turn loose the Mylan situation until we’ve flipped every stone. … Maybe we do not save Mylan but we don’t quit trying.”

The Dominion Post has reported on the likely economic impact of 1,500 high-paying jobs being lost,and Justice acknowledged that.

“It’s a big deal that has happened in this state,” he said. “It’s just a crying shame and that’s just all there is to it.” He’s tried to use federal stimulus dollars as an incentive, to no avail so far. “We hit so many dead ends, but it doesn’t matter. We just keep trying.”

He said he doesn’t understand outsourcing good West Virginia jobs to India to save some labor dollars. When he had the chance to declare bankruptcy on some of his poor-performing coal companies, he didn’t do it. “That’s what 55 coal companies did. Well, I didn’t do it.”

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