Merck Serono's final answer: Geneva HQ will close

Merck Serono workers all but struck out in their bid to save their Geneva headquarters--or at least blunt the effects on the 1,200-plus employees there. The company announced that it will, indeed, shut down the Geneva site as planned. The decision comes after weeks of protests and strike threats from distraught local employees.

It was all but a foregone conclusion. Merck KGaA's restructuring and cost-saving plan depends on jettisoning its Serono division's dual headquarters in Geneva and Darmstadt, Germany, where the rest of the company is based. Geneva employees advanced several proposals for keeping some operations in Geneva, if not the HQ itself, but those ideas were unacceptable, the company said.

"[T]hese proposals are not viable or practicable given the need to eliminate existing duplications of functions to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the business," the company said in a statement. "Merck Serono has determined that this can only be achieved through the consolidation of headquarters activities and European R&D ... in Darmstadt, Germany."

The announcement came at the end of a required "consultation period" for workers and the company to parley about the job cuts. The company first announced its restructuring plans in February, and since then, employees have hit the streets of Geneva with protests, which included a choreographed "flash mob." Last week, employees followed through on their strike threats.

Merck Serono tweaked its plans a bit. For instance, the early retirement age will be lowered to 56 from 58, to allow some Geneva workers the chance to exit that way. But the bulk of the original plan remains intact: 500 jobs will be cut and another 750 will be transferred to Darmstadt, Boston, Beijing and Aubonne, Switzerland.

Whether Genevoise workers will be interested in making a move is up for grabs. Perhaps the most likely spot for a transfer would be Aubonne, which will capture 130 of the transferred positions. Another 80 jobs will go at another Serono facility in the nearby canton of Vaud. Some might find offshoot work in Geneva, as the company set up a €30 million ($37.8 million) fund to back employee startups.

Workers won't have the opportunity to demonstrate their opinions about the announcement, at least not on company property. In the wake of last week's strike, the company issued a directive prohibiting protests on company property.

- see the statement from Merck Serono