Serono workers threaten strike against HQ shutdown

Merck Serono employees have responded to the company's plans to shudder its Geneva headquarters by organizing protests.

The staid streets of Geneva have been crawling with Merck Serono protesters, as local employees marched against the impending shutdown of their headquarters. Now, they're threatening to strike tomorrow, if company officials don't extend the timeframe for consulting with union leadership.

Reeling from the shock of Merck KGaA's April 24 announcement that it would shut down the Geneva headquarters, employees started organizing. White-collar staff, who previously rejected union participation, signed up with Unia, Le Temps reports. Since then, the group has staged several small protests at headquarters (which it calls "coffee and croissants" actions), launched a petition drive, and masterminded the Geneva demonstrations. It also dispatched a set of resolutions to the local and cantonal governments demanding action.

The employees put together a set of talking points for journalists--dispatched to a host of outlets, including FiercePharma--in hopes of getting attention for their efforts outside the French-language media. The union claims that announced job cuts understate the real losses; rather than 500 layoffs, Unia says up to 1,500 positions are on the chopping block. That includes 250 long-term contract workers, some of whom have worked there for 15-plus years.

That figure also includes a large portion of the 750 employees offered transfers elsewhere in Merck; the employee group says that the relocation offers aren't much inducement. "It is expected anywhere from 10% to 15% of the people to accept any transfer for the reasons that the transfer packages are really unattractive and mean lower quality of life if accepted," an employee spokesperson said.

Local media is blaming hidebound German management for stifling innovation at the Geneva site, in the years since Serono sold to Merck in 2007. "After the acquisition, in order to move forward in a decision process, we always needed to have the agreement of the two headquarters and to work with 11 hierarchical levels, on both the Latin [French-Swiss] and German sides," marketing executive Lilian Willner told Le Temps. The Geneva headquarters building comes in for criticism, too, as more of a showpiece than a functional research site (it predates the sale, however).

Whether the company is at all open to backtracking on the Geneva closure isn't clear; officials refused an interview with Le Temps. It did respond in writing to the critique of its Serono integration: The combination "was, in the general opinion, rather well done."

- see the article in Le Temps
- get more from Le Temps
- read the employee group's blog
- check out the group's Facebook page