Bayer HealthCare Job Cuts Unlikely to Be Reversed

Photo: Protesters demonstrated against Bayer's layoffs of 39 workers, but their efforts in attempting to have those employees rehired may be unsuccessful.
Protesters demonstrated against Bayer's layoffs of 39 workers, but their efforts in attempting to have those employees rehired may be unsuccessful.

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Though Bayer HealthCare's layoff of 39 employees last month has been met with protest from union members and offers from city officials to mediate between the two parties, the company - the second largest private sector employer in Berkeley - seems set in its decision to reduce costs through the elimination of these positions.

Nearly 150 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, 120 of whom are currently employed by the company's West Berkeley location, rallied outside the biotech plant Sept. 22 to draw community attention to what organizers called "needless" job losses. Union representatives met with Mayor Tom Bates Sept. 23, asking him to facilitate communication between management and workers and prevent further layoffs.

The plant is one of Bayer HealthCare's many locations around the globe and produces the hemophilia drug Kogenate. The company's net profits are up by 27 percent for the first half of 2010, compared with the same period last year - a $1.6 billion increase.

Despite these gains, the branch faced pressure from its upper management - located primarily in Germany - to become more efficient in production while reducing costs, a demand which led to the layoffs, according to union representatives.

"Becoming more competitive increases our appeal as a destination for additional manufacturing investments and helps secure a strong and prosperous future for the (Berkeley) site," said Sreejit Mohan, the company's director of public policy and communications, in a statement following the layoffs.

But according to Dave Fogarty, the city's economic development project coordinator, it is unusual for a profitable branch to make cutbacks in response to the global needs of a parent company.

Union organizer Carey Dall said that sales of Kogenate, which is particular to the West Berkeley plant, remain high and that layoffs of Bay Area employees occurred in spite of the branch's individual success and increased efficiency.

He added that employees who have retained their positions at the plant will now be forced to take on additional work to further improve efficiency at the branch.

"Employers are not hiring folks, and they're asking those of us workers to do more work faster," he said. "The folks that do the cleaning of the productive machinery - they have to do a triple cleaning of anything that will touch the pharmaceutical itself. Five to six (of them) got laid off. They're being told to do more work and do it faster without overtime."

While Mohan said in the statement that the company's management recognizes the impact of the layoffs "on the lives of people," the statement maintains that the cuts were necessary to make the company more competitive and efficient.

The rally held Sept. 22, however, was organized with aim of potentially getting laid-off workers rehired, according to Christian Sledge, chief steward for the ILWU Local 6, the Bay Area's division of the union. The union's ongoing communication with Bates is also aligned with this goal.

The Bayer layoffs are contributing to the current tide of increasing job loss in the city. From December 2007 to December 2009, the city has witnessed the loss of 7,025 positions, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Hannah Moulthrop covers local business. Contact her at [email protected]

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