Time for Merck workers to sign for early retirement--or not

Today's the day for some eligible Merck ($MRK) employees to give the yea or nay on early retirement. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, union officials say early retirement papers are due--and what happens next depends upon how many Merck people choose for an early exit. The deadline comes as Merck is sharpening its axe to cut some 13,000 jobs by 2015.

The early retirement package includes two weeks pay for each year of service up to 78 weeks, plus a minimum of 6 months' health insurance, the United Steelworkers Union local said. The group represents more than 2,000 of the 10,000 people working at Merck's West Point plant. Union rep Dan Bangert tells the Inquirer that he has no idea how many will accept the offer.

"We've got a few that were ready to go and think they will take it," he says. No word on how many early retirements Merck is hoping for, but Bangert says, "if they don't get their number, there might be layoffs."

Merck announced late last month that it was preparing for another round of job cuts, as generic competition, pricing pressures and an iffy economy took their toll. The company said 35% to 40% of the cuts would come at U.S. facilities, primarily in "non-revenue-generating" positions, including admin and HQ folks. Merck also plans to consolidate facilities, and some manufacturing plants might be closed, the Inquirer notes, adding that one San Francisco facility has already been slated for shutdown.

- read the Inquirer piece