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Latest News - December 2010

December 03, 2010
Union Fighting Closure of Plants
Source: PhillyBurbs
By: John Anastasi

The Bensalem sites - one on Street Road and one on Marshall Lane - employ 1,000 people, including 850 union members.

The union representing Express Scripts' Bensalem employees is still fighting to keep the company from leaving Bucks County and cutting 1,000 local jobs.

The union is relying on the unfair labor practice complaints it filed over the last six months to stop the St. Louis-based pharmaceutical distributor from closing two Bensalem facilities this winter. The plants - one on Street Road and one on Marshall Lane - employ 1,000 people, including 850 union members.

"We're seeking an injunction (to stop the closure), but the National Labor Relations Board must do an investigation," Stephanie Haynes said this week. She is with the Service Employees International Union's Healthcare Pennsylvania division.

Complaints accuse Express Scripts of failing to bargain in good faith by announcing it was closing Marshall Lane amidst October negotiations, issuing new employee policies without bargaining for them, failing to provide the union with documents and suspending three workers for mentioning potential closures to clients.

"Because the employer's actions so undermine the collective bargaining process, it should be enjoined + from relocating its Bensalem facilities or transferring bargaining unit work from Bensalem to other Express Scripts Inc.'s work sites," according to a complaint dated Sept. 22.

National Labor Relations Board regional director Dorothy Moore-Duncan on Thursday acknowledged receiving the complaints and added that she hopes the investigation of the claims would be finished by Dec. 16, the date that Marshall Lane is slated to be closed.

Once the investigation is complete, she said her office would make a recommendation to the NLRB, which gets the final say.

Company spokesman Larry Zarin declined to discuss the specifics of the complaints, but he hinted that Express Scripts anticipated the filings and was ready to counter them.

"There is a clear procedure in place that we're abiding to and managing," he said. "That's really all I can comment on in terms of the legal moves. But as in all cases, we think through all contingencies all the time."

He also said the company is ready to make the transition, which will involve shutting down Marshall Lane this month and Street Road about Feb. 1. The work would be spread among a half-dozen domestic plants, including Express Scripts' new high-volume filler site in St. Louis.

Zarin said the company has the capacity to take on the work without a "massive" staffing increase elsewhere, thanks to capacity that came from the company's recent acquisition of WellPoint Inc.'s pharmacy benefits management business.

"We're always in a staffing mode naturally, but we have seven other facilities just in the United States that do what we were doing down there (in Bensalem)," Zarin said.

He added that Bensalem was "always our first choice" but that the inability to strike a new contract over eight months of negotiating with SEIU Healthcare PA dealt a serious blow to the company's future there.

Union officials said they offered $8 million in concessions, including a $2-an-hour pay cut for pharmacists and a two-year wage freeze. But they said they refused to let the company switch their health care coverage to an inferior plan and sought job protections the company wouldn't give them.

"When we were putting in the newest technology, Bensalem was (previously) first on the list," Zarin said. "But when we were unable to secure confidence in the ability to come to an agreement on the labor side, it caused us to consider other locations."

The state learned of Express Scripts' plan to close Marshall Lane and potentially close Street Road in mid-October, when the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry received the company's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification. State law requires WARN notices 60 days before a mass layoff.

Zarin said the company submitted a WARN notice referencing both sites in October to cover its bases.

Word of the pending closures has PA CareerLink Bucks County preparing for large numbers of new clients who will seek services due to the layoff, said director Norm Brewer.

"It's the biggest one in the year I've been here," said Brewer.

And it coincides with the expiration of unemployment benefits, he added. Due to the failure of Congress to pass an extension, about 2,500 Bucks County residents will lose their unemployment benefits this month and another 3,000 will see theirs expire in January.

"More of them will be coming back to us and we'll see some increase due to Express Scripts layoffs," Brewer said. "But it's what we do and we'll handle it like we always have. We'll figure it out and get through it."

PA CareerLink helps displaced workers find new jobs and tap training opportunities that help them acquire new skills.

Congressman Patrick Murphy, D-8, supported the union during negotiations. He stayed by its side Thursday, saying he was "extremely disappointed by Express Scripts' decision."

"While I understand the company is accountable to its shareholders, the employees not only helped build Express Scripts, but made a number of good-faith concessions," he said in an e-mail.

The 8th District includes all of Bucks County, some districts of Abington, Upper Dublin and Upper Moreland in Montgomery County and two wards in Philadelphia.



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