A national political organization delivered a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, calling on him to invoke the Defense Production Act in a Hail Mary effort to save jobs at the former Mylan Pharmaceuticals plant in Morgantown.
In less than 10 days, 1,246 plant workers will be laid off as part of the new operator’s “global restructuring initiative,” with another nearly 200 workers to be kept on until the facility completely shutters in March 2022. Mylan and Upjohn, a company under Pfizer, merged last November, which created the corporation Viatris. After one month operating as Viatris, the company announced its plans to send those jobs overseas, to India and Australia.
United Steelworkers Local 8-957 members have fought tooth and nail to save their jobs since December and stop the abandonment of the Chestnut Ridge Road facility — once Mylan’s flagship location. But union officials have run into wall after wall trying to find a new operator for what was formerly one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the world.
Our Revolution, a progressive political group that spawned from Sen. Bernie Sanders’, I-Vt., 2016 presidential run, authored and delivered the letter to Biden, calling on him to immediately intervene in the situation. The letter leads with a quote from Biden’s Build Back Better plan, in which the president declared this moment to be crucial in rebuilding the American economy for families in the next generation.
The organization asked him to be true to his word.
“He committed to rebuilding America’s industrial base, and by allowing the plant to go abroad, he’s breaking his pledge,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director for Our Revolution.
The Defense Production Act of 1950 would allow the federal government to repurpose the former Mylan facility and use its workers to produce essential materials and goods needed for national defense. This would keep the plant in operation until Biden or his successor revokes the order.
Nearly 850 of the almost 1,500 jobs to be lost are those of well-paid union workers. Biden has specifically highlighted high-paying union jobs as a major key to rebuilding the economy. Geevarghese said that, if Biden doesn’t act on this issue, the story in Morgantown will be the same as it has been nationwide in recent decades: Well-paid manufacturing workers will be forced into low-paying service-sector jobs, and the region’s economy will tank.
Geevarghese questioned why the president has stayed silent. But he said Biden isn’t the only powerful politician allegedly ducking the plant’s workers.
“The fundamental problem is, no elected official at the federal level, whether it’s members of Congress or the president, have spoken out on this issue. I think that is a betrayal of what elected officials are supposed to do,” Geevarghese said. “Their No. 1 job is to raise the standard of living for their constituents, and this plant closure — allowing it to happen is a betrayal.”
The White House press office did not return a request for comment Wednesday.
Local 8-957 President Joe Gouzd, a 22-year plant veteran, said that, since December, all West Virginia elected officials, save for two local delegates, have not seriously engaged in the process of helping these workers. Members bused to the West Virginia Capitol on June 8 to drum up support from state-level officials, and while some said then that they would help, there hasn’t been any word returned since.
“These people have all ducked and hidden, and they’ve stayed away from us like we haven’t showered for a week,” Gouzd said.
Viatris and the United Steelworkers’ international office reached a severance agreement July 2, which members believed “was nothing more than average,2 at the very best,” Gouzd said. After they are laid off, workers will receive two weeks of pay, benefits and insurance for every year they worked for the plant. These benefits were supposed to last until March 2023 — the end date of the union’s last contract — but there is zero chance any workers will receive payments until then.
Dozens of other national and local organizations co-signed Our Revolution’s letter, which warns of dire consequences for working families and people who need affordable generic drugs.
“The timing couldn’t be worse — with international supply chains shaky and the nation of India still firmly in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter reads. “How do we know that Americans will continue to receive their medications as needed? We simply don’t.”
Mylan’s closure brings further American reliance on foreign drug makers. In 2019, roughly 40% of the world’s generic drug supply was manufactured in India. A full 80% of the active ingredients in all drugs, whether brand-name or generic, are made in India and China.
Generic drugs have become essential to affordable health care, but corporations repeatedly have fled overseas to escape American regulations. While the Food and Drug Administration routinely inspects domestic pharmaceutical facilities, years can lapse between agency inspections of overseas generic manufacturers. And, with the pandemic still raging in many parts of the world, those inspections will be further delayed.
The group closed the letter with a dim vision for the future, if Biden does not take action.
“The alternative looks grim: massive layoffs, drug price hikes and delayed shipments of life-saving medicines. Time is running out,” the letter states. “We strongly urge you to use every lever at your disposal to save this plant. If there is a will, there is a way. Please do something.”