Sandoz resumes production at Canada plant after accord reached with union


Sandoz restarted production at a sterile injectables plant in Canada late Sunday night and said it will soon lift a temporary allocation system after working out labor issues with Teamsters at the facility.

The generics unit of Swiss drugmaker Novartis ($NVS) said Monday that it had reached a new 6-year agreement with the 267 Teamsters members who last week initiated a 24-hour strike as negotiations dragged out at the plant in Boucherville, Quebec. Union members, who had worked without an agreement since the end of last year, approved the terms on Saturday with 97% voting in favor.

Production restarted at 11 p.m. Sunday, a Sandoz spokeswoman said. The plant makes a wide variety of products such as pain meds morphine and hydromorphone, the anticoagulant heparin, antibiotics, and anesthetics including sufentanil and alfentanil. 

“This new agreement is good news for all parties concerned, as well as for the Canadian healthcare system as we have one of the biggest injectables manufacturing plant in Canada, producing high quality lifesaving products,” Michel Robidoux, president of Sandoz Canada, said in a statement. “Over the past 30 years, we have built a strong industrial peace with our employees and we are proud to see that it will continue for another 6-years,” he added.

Sandoz suspended production at the sterile injectables plant when the Teamsters called a one-day strike a week ago over wage and benefits issues that the union said were related in part to stricter regulations imposed by the FDA and Canadian regulators. It said it would institute a temporary allocation system but did not expect it to affect customers because it had enough inventory to meet their needs. Sandoz chose to extend the plant suspension when the strike was ended, saying it didn’t want to risk another work interruption that might jeopardize product quality. Negotiations resumed and an agreement was approved Saturday.

The union said that workers were primarily unhappy about the extra duties imposed on them due to increasingly complex and stringent standards issued by Canadian and U.S. regulators. Sandoz said today that over the past few years, Sandoz Canada had intensified its efforts to ensure high quality standards. It said as part of a “Novartis Quality and Compliance world-class best practices, it has made significant investments to upgrade and modernize its Boucherville plant and to develop employees through training.”

The plant was one of three Sandoz facilities issued an FDA warning letter in 2012 after inspections documented manufacturing lapses. The company responded with a remediation plan, suspending some manufacturing at the Quebec plant so fixes could be made. That, in turn, led to shortages of some drugs. The warning letter was closed out in 2014.  

- read the Sandoz announcement (PDF)

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