Globalization hits home: Mylan pharmaceuticals and the Mountain State

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Two weeks before Christmas Day in 2020, nearly 1,500 workers at the Viatris facility in Morgantown, West Virginia, formerly known as Mylan, were met with devastating news. 

The company had decided to shut down operations at the 56-year-old pharmaceutical plant. The workers’ jobs would be sent overseas to India and Australia.

“We were notified that the plant was going to be shuttered permanently July 31st of 2021,” Joe Goudz, president of United Steel Workers (USW) Local 8-957, which represents many of the plant’s workers, told Fox News. 

Viatris said in a statement that the decision to close the plant was part of a “global restructuring initiative.” They insisted that the “phasing out of manufacturing operations in Morgantown was a decision the company did not take lightly in and in no way reflects upon our genuine appreciation for the commitment and work ethic of the employees” at the plant. 

Many of those employees don’t know what they’ll do next. “I may leave the area. My family may leave the area,” said William Hawkins, who worked at the plant for fourteen years. 

The plant serves as a sort of institution in Morgantown because of its history. It was originally operated by Mylan Pharmaceuticals, a homegrown company that was started in West Virginia by Milan Puskar. 

Around town, locals speak of Puskar and his company with reverence normally reserved for saints. “Everything that was here was because of Mylan,” Kathleen Kurincak, a local business owner, said. “The big hospital, the stadium, every business, dental, medical, restaurants, grocery stores – everything, tire shops, car dealerships. Why are they here? Because there were people to serve.”

Puskar stepped down from his role as chairman of the company in 2009 and passed away shortly after. Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom described this as a turning point for the company. “We could see the writing on the wall. And basically what happened was, Milan Puskar, when he passed away, you could start seeing a changing of the entire environment towards the workers and our community,” he said. 

In 2019, it was announced that Mylan would be merging with Upjohn, the generics division of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. That merger was completed in 2020; the resulting company was called Viatris. One executive who departed Mylan during this period was its former CEO, Heather Bresch. Bresch, the daughter of West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, reportedly received a $30 million golden parachute. Just weeks after the completion of the merger, Viatris announced the Morgantown layoffs. 

“They totally shifted their focus overseas and away from the hometown. They’re interested in expanding in China,” David Beard, a reporter at the Morgantown-based Dominion Post said of the consequences of the merger.

Since December, the USW has been petitioning local politicians to do everything they can to save their jobs. But elected officials in Morgantown said they haven’t been able to even tour the Viatris plant, which could help them attract potential buyers for the facility. In the spring, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a resolution urging President Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to retrofit the facility to produce medical supplies. With the plant just weeks away from closing, the administration has yet to show any interest in doing so.

It would be easy for Americans to shrug off what is happening in Morgantown as simply an unfortunate local story. But the reality is that America has lost millions of manufacturing jobs over the past few decades. What’s happening in Morgantown has played out in community after community, as manufacturing went overseas and workers who spent decades loyal to the same company were left jobless. 

“This can happen anywhere. Not just in small town West Virginia,” Russell Livengood, one of the plant’s employees, warned about the closure. “There’s going to be more of ‘em.”