Novartis workers end strike, but vow to fight on

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The good news for Novartis ($NVS): Workers in Nyon, Switzerland, have ended their strike. The not-so-good: If union leaders and employees think the drugmaker isn't negotiating in good faith, they'll strike again.

Employees stopped work yesterday to protest Novartis' plans to shut down their plant. They're putting forward alternatives to the plant closure and job cuts that will come along with it, and they wanted to meet with CEO Joe Jimenez (photo) about their ideas. The cantonal government of Vaud has jumped into the fray, too, in hopes of saving those jobs. Although Jimenez hasn't talked to the workers personally--yet--the company now says it will seriously consider proposals from the employees and the Vaud government.

"Novartis is looking forward to reviewing the concrete proposals ... and how these proposals could make the Nyon site financially viable for Novartis, which is out desire," the company said in a statement (as quoted by Reuters). Previously, the company had said that the Nyon strike was "complicating" the dialogue between it and its workers there.

The strike followed street protests against Novartis' job-cutting plans in Basel as well as Nyon. Demonstrators have pointed out that Novartis has been quite profitable, and its top executives, including Chairman Daniel Vasella (photo) and Jimenez, are quite well-paid. In fact, Vasella has been repeatedly criticized for his pay package, which has made him one of the highest-paid company officials in Switzerland.

Pharma layoffs have been quite common over the past several years, but few job-cut announcements have prompted the kind of push-back that Novartis is seeing now. Its crosstown rival, Roche, announced 4,800 of them late last year, without demonstrations in the streets of Basel. Merck ($MRK) did face protests in the Netherlands when it proposed shutting down Organon's facilities there--the U.S. company ended up scaling back those cuts--and AstraZeneca ($AZN) workers walked out to protest pension changes. The only other dispute we can think of also involved Novartis, which had struck different severance deals with workers at two U.K. plants.

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