Geneva workers propose scaleback at Merck Serono HQ

Merck Serono's Geneva employees hope one of their job-saving proposals will prove "just right" to company management. And they're prepared to strike to push their cause. But so far, the company's proposals would only improve severance packages, rather than preserve Geneva jobs.

Merck KGaA, which bought Serono in 2006 and has maintained dual headquarters for the division ever since, has said it would shut down its Swiss headquarters and move some jobs to other locations, including the home campus in Darmstadt, Germany. Shocked by the decision, the staff in Geneva have organized protests and threatened strikes, hoping to push management into revising its plans.

The employee group set forth three ideas to save jobs in Geneva, the Unia trade union said. Under one alternative, the Geneva employees would commit to 25% to 30% increases in efficiency, plus across-the-board salary cuts, in return for keeping the local headquarters open. The second would involve a scaled-down R&D facility with 300 employees, either as a division of or collaboration with the Darmstadt operations.

The third proposal would expand upon Merck Serono's early pledge to back biotech ventures in the city with a multimillion-dollar fund. The employees are asking for $68 million in capital, more than three times the company's pledge, Geneva Lunch says.

In support of their proposals, the workers staged a one-hour walkout today, performing as a "flash mob" in the streets of Geneva. They're threatening to strike next week if negotiations among workers, Unia and company executives--scheduled for tomorrow--break down.

Merck Serono says it needs more time to weigh the staff proposals, which were submitted on Monday. "[I]nsofar as the constraints to which we are subject will allow, they will be taken into account in determining our final decision on the restructuring plan for Merck Serono's operations in Switzerland," the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the company inked a deal with India's Dr. Reddy's Laboratories to develop biosimilar drugs. According to Le Temps, that effort will be based in Switzerland, at its Aubonne and Corsier-sur-Vevey. About 30 employees will be dedicated to the task by the end of this year, 50 by the end of 2103. The deal will help keep 1,000 Merck Serono jobs in Switzerland, a spokesman told the newspaper.

Outside of Geneva, the company now employs about 400 in Vevey and 300 in Aubonne. The restructuring plan announced in April would move some Geneva workers to those two sites.

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