Back in July of this year, just after French drug maker Sanofi announced the closure of several French research sites in France resulting in over 2000 layoffs of highly skilled French researchers, France’s productive recovery minister furiously defended those French researchers:
Ok, it’s in French but do you see how mad he is? THAT is what democracy looks like- an elected government standing up for the people who voted for it. When was the last time anyone in this country did that? Basically, what Montebourg is saying is that Sanofi’s actions are unacceptable, their plan came without warning and Mountebourg pretty much publicly shamed the company for doing it when it made 5€ billion in profits this year.
The French researchers fought back. For one thing, they’re represented by a very strong union and they’re allowed to protest without fear or retaliation. I should mention that the sanofi employees in the US that were laid off had no opportunity to protest because they all signed severance agreements which let them go away quietly in exchange for a payoff. The severance wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the loss of a job in the US where ybig pharma is rapidly turning researchers into low paid contractors and short term job hoppers.
The good news for the French workers is that only 900 jobs will be lost to attrition. The site that wa most under threat was Toulouse*. There will be a working group to discuss what will happen to it. But that wasn’t good enough for the government Minister Mountebourg who said yesterday, “Trade unions are right to say this is too much. The government says this is too much and we want guarantees for Toulouse.”. So, the company has to come up with a new restructuring plan by Oct 3, 2012.
One thing is for certain: there is very little actual research going on in the labs in France in this environment. People who are worried about losing their jobs are too preoccupied to concentrate well on projects that might be gone soon anyway. Of course, if work helps you take your mind off your worries, you’re probably in the zone right now. But this is something the big wigs at sanofi are probably not even considering. To them, it’s all about reducing costs, appeasing shareholders and getting big bonuses. If research underperforms because it is under stress and disorganized from restructuring after restructuring, they’ll just blame the lazy researchers. And in the US, nobody questioned them. The representatives, and state and federal governments just accepted it. No one ever questions management. But when you have to spend so much time and effort defending your right to practice your craft, you can see where actual work might get pushed aside temporarily while you protest and update your CV.
The bad news is that the new restructuring plan will hit the remaining US researchers whose numbers were vastly reduced last year when Sanofi closed their main US research facility in Bridgewater, NJ. The US researchers are worried. I know this because I get email.
What are the chances that a US government official or representative from MA or AZ is going to stand up on the floor of congress and demand that Sanofi stop foisting the burden of unemployment on these researchers and the taxpayers the way that Mountebourg did?
How many of the 100,000 research positions that have been lost since 2008 might have been saved if Democrats hadn’t acted like feckless cowards?
We may never know but we should be asking questions and demanding answers. The unemployment problem among researchers is pretty bad and we are pissed off with all the talk about sweeping more naive, young students into a career that won’t pay the rent.
I want answers as to why every representative from NJ, NY, CT, CA, DE, MD, MA and PA isn’t demanding that industrial research become accountable for the burden they place on the taxpayer and skilled professionals.
*Toulouse is a pretty nice site. New, modern building, up-to-date labs, great espresso bar on the second floor landing. Much nicer than the Vitry site buildings right outside of Paris, which look like they’re straight out of the 19th century. If anything, sanofi should be encouraging researchers to relocate to Toulouse and Montpellier where the cost of living might be less than in Paris. Montpellier is nicer than Vitry as well with facilities right near the Mediterranean. Just saying.