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Union workers threaten to end labor agreement with Bayer

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2011

Continuing negotiations between Southwest Berkeley’s Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals and union workers heated up last Wednesday, as the union voted to authorize its negotiating committee to potentially cancel its labor agreement with the company.

According to a statement released by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 — which represents 414 workers at Bayer — members voted to authorize the committee to cancel the union’s agreement “if the company refuses to protect jobs from being outsourced.”

Union spokesperson Craig Merrilees said that while the union does intend to go forward with negotiations, the decision to authorize the committee to have the power to cancel the contract is an important one.

“The contract provides a degree of certainty and predictability that is usually important to employers, and when the contract ends, those assurances disappear with the expired contract,” Merrilees said. “The recent vote by  workers at the Bayer facility authorized the worker negotiation committee to provide Bayer with that notice if necessary because the company is refusing to take issues raised by workers seriously.”

The dispute has come in the wake of negotiations between the union and the company over a contract which expired Aug. 24. The contract had been agreed upon in 2008, and negotiations have focused on deciding upon a new contract for the next four years.

Negotiations have run into obstacles as union workers rejected the contract on Aug. 31, citing a proposed increase of workers’ health care contributions from 18 percent to 20 percent over the next four years and concerns over recent employee layoffs as reasons.

“The main goal at this point is to try and work things out with Bayer and see if a reasonable compromise can’t be reached that provides for more job security, safer staffing and affordable health care,” Merrilees said.

Sreejit Mohan, Bayer’s director of public policy and communications, said the union’s demands that the contract include language assuring job security is “unprecedented.”

“It would severely handcuff Bayer’s ability to maintain and grow this site in the years to come,” Mohan said. “Our contract with the Union has never had the sort of language they are proposing. In fact, no successful company — certainly not a global company operating in the U.S. — would agree to such language.”

Mohan added that the company has worked to treat employees with fairness in the face of the current economic recession and that any assurances of job security must come from the stability of the company as a whole.

“By any standard, what we have offered our employees is a fair and generous offer,” Mohan said. “Job security for all of us comes from being the most competitive biotech manufacturing plant in the global market. New work and new products will come our way only if we are seen as an efficient and productive site.”

According to Mohan, negotiations between Bayer and the union will continue later this week.

Contact Jamie Applegate at 

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SEPTEMBER 26, 2011