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Mylan union wants to use letter for leverage

The employee parking lot at the Mylan-Viatris facility was conspicuously empty Monday afternoon as traffic bustled by on nearby Chestnut Ridge Road.

This past Saturday was the all but final drawdown at the plant, which was co-founded in 1961 by Milan “Mike” Puskar, the late Morgantown benefactor who lobbied for its relocation to the city four years after that first production day in a once-abandoned roller rink in White Sulphur Springs.

“All but final,” because the official decommissioning of the plant – that is, the removal of its specialized measuring and diagnostic equipment, plus other machinery – will be ongoing through October.

About 70 workers are undertaking that project, and Joe Gouzd hopes their efforts won’t stick.

He was a 22-year employee at the plant on his way to becoming president of United Steel Workers 8-957, the local union whose members made up the final majority of the 1,400 workers who cleared out by Saturday.

On Monday, he fired up his home computer at 4:30 a.m., and continued helping his union brothers and sisters navigate the separation process, with their severance and other particulars.

“We may have gotten some leverage,” he said. “I think.”

Or, at least they got a response.

The union president is referring to the handful of letters, all in basically the same version, which went out last week to the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) from state and local lawmakers.

All those were asking that the plant simply be saved, for two key reasons.

No. 1: The U.S. is experiencing a second, more infectious version of the pandemic, with a surge of Delta variant cases upon the land.

No. 2: The plant on Chestnut Ridge Road, Gouzd and those letter-writers said, has the facilities, and the workforce, to begin producing needed medications such as vaccines and insulin immediately.

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, was among the first lawmakers to pen a letter for the cause.

Fleischauer, who didn’t return calls in time for this report, was tentatively optimistic on her Facebook page – “It is not over yet,” she posted.

The delegated include the copy of her letter and the response over the weekend from CISA Director Jen Easterly, who used similar language, Fleischauer said, in a response to Tennessee lawmakers who were able to save a pharmaceuticals plant in Bristol in the same straits.

Easterly: “We assure you that the critical infrastructure designation for manufacturing facilities such as the Viatris facility (formerly Mylan Pharmaceuticals) in Morgantown, WV mentioned in your letter, will remain in place.”

Such a sign over the door of an empty plant, Gouzd said, is still, well, such a sign over the door.

Gouzd said he’ll continue marketing the former Mylan plant all the way to the Biden White House.

That employee parking lot could be full again this week, he said, with a competent workforce putting solidly regulated medications for the health and wellness of West Virginia and the world.

“We don’t want freebies and we don’t want handouts,” he said. “We want to work.”