Jun. 10—MORGANTOWN — United Steelworkers Local 8-957 President Joseph Gouzd and Delegate Danielle Walker sat down Wednesday morning at the union hall to offer some comments to The Dominion Post about Tuesday's rally outside the governor's mansion in Charleston.
Union workers took a bus to the Capitol on Tuesday to bring the message of what they and the community face when the Morgantown Viatris plant closes July 31 a—and 1, 500 people lose their jobs—to the governor and other state leaders, and to try to prompt some action from them.
Gouzd said they were able to speak with Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch and briefly with Gov. Jim Justice.
"Yesterday was good, " he said. "I felt like yesterday, we were somewhat received. And I felt like we were able to develop some type of a small dialog with the governor." They talked with Justice and he took some questions.
Walker, D-Monongalia, was not pleased with the brief time Justice allowed or with the failure of state officials' efforts to date. "I was very disturbed, he said "I felt very disrespected. I have seen the governor in Mon County, but it was only to do a ribbon cutting.
"That is not doing your job, " she said, "Do your job. Put in work. That was not putting in work, for me. That was minimal."
Justice told the press earlier Tuesday, "We are trying with all in us, but this, guys, is private enterprise that you are trying to attract other private enterprise to replace and come to our state. It's not an easy task." And pleas to Viatris to reconsider " just fell on deaf ears."
But the union's frustration with state government's failure comes closer to earth, too. The local recently rented space in an area hotel to register its members with WorkForce West Virginia for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Readjustment Allowances—benefits for people who become unemployed due to layoffs as a result of foreign imports or a shift of production out of the United States.
They operated three computers for two days in five shifts to register more than 400 people. And then found out the WorkForce system was down and none of it was entered.
Walker aired her frustration with that foul-up by referencing Ascend WV, the remote workforce recruitment program that offers $12, 000 in relocation and retention incentives to draw remote workers to the state.
She said, "We want to pay people $12K to come here for remote work, but we can't fix our own systems ?"
Gouzd said they will set up to do this again next week, and noted the state of mind of the workers facing unemployment.
"We have our share of people, in all fairness, that are very disturbed, " he said. "They have angst, they have anxiety, they have anger, they have all those things. They have a lot of resentment. They have bitterness. They're pissed because of what's going on over here. ... They don't know what the hell they're going to do July 31 when they lose their job."
He asked, "Why does it have to happen at all ? We are a domestic manufacturer." The plant could make medicines for Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, the Defense Production Act.
He and Walker have a vision—and shared that vision with Justice—of using some federal money to incentivize Viatris to stay in Morgantown until the union contract expires in 2023. That would allow time to draw in another company and readjust the plant for its needs.
Gouzd asked, "Why does it have to shut down and go totally to India ? ... What are we doing so bad ? Our people are taking a daily step to the guillotine and we know the rope's hanging, and we know at the end of the rope there's a big piece of sharp metal. And our people are still showing up to work."
They've produced 3 billion doses since January, he said. The closure announcement came Dec. 11.
Walker, a Mountaineer by choice who came to West Virginia from Louisiana—reflected on her connection to Mylan workers. Back in 2015-16 she was having a house built through the sweat-equity program of Habitat for Humanity. Mylan workers were on the job.
"If not for these Mylan workers volunteering their time ... I wouldn't have walls on my house, " she said. She recalls a day when she had to take care of her mother and sons, making six trips back and forth to the site, bringing food as the Mylan employees were working soaking wet in the rain.
They said well past their 5 p.m. closing time, Walker said. "This is what this plant has done for our community. They give back to families so those families can reinvest back into the community. And we are losing this."
The union will be holding a town hall at Euro-Suites starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, where workers will share their stories.
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