Script of a disagreement

So was it the union's fault that Express Scripts chose not to expand in Bucks County? The company says it is. The union says the opposite.

Here is a recap of what each side told me as I reported the story in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the summer of 2009, the company was shopping around for sites and negotiating with the union. That is where both sides are in agreement. Express Scripts, which runs a pharmacy mail order business, operates two facilities in Bensalem.

Tina Davis, a Bristol Township councilwoman told me that the township had teed up the former Jones New York site in her township, agreeing to name it a Keystone Opportunity Zone (or whatever the official name is). It boiled down to no state taxes for a number of years. Thom Gross, the company spokesman, said the plant, to be equipped with the latest technology, would have added jobs in Bucks County. Instead, he said, the company chose to build in St. Louis, where the company has its headquarters. With the new plant, the company had too much capacity, so it had to shut down something, Gross said.

Stephanie Haynes, a top leader of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, said the union was never given a target to reach. But it agreed to provide $3.7 million in concessions at that time. The company later said it wasn't enough. When those negotiations were unsuccessful, union and management agreed to extend the workers' contract until Dec. 2010. It was supposed to have expired in December 2009. During those 2009 summer negotiations, Haynes said, the company gave no indication of plans to close the Bensalem facilities, which employ 900 union workers.  "No one expected them to close the Marshall plant," Haynes said. "we just didn't think they were going to expand it."  

By law, if a company is thinking about closing, it must alert the union to engage in "decisional bargaining," so the union has an opportunity to influence the company not to move.

The company said that it failed to get the decisions and decided to expand instead in St. Louis, where it has its headquarters. Haynes said that "the word on the street" is that the company got the tax deal from Pennsylvania and used it as leverage to get government help  in St. Louis. In some ways, it makes sense to bring major operations close to company headquarters.

In March, 2010, less than a year later, the company asked the union to engage in decisional bargaining over the fate of two Bensalem plants. The company sought $8.8 million in concessions, the union said, and the union provided $8 million, it said. The company declined to discuss negotiations. 

Except for a small union unit in New Mexico, the Bensalem plants employ the company's only union workforce. One of the politicians who spoke at a gathering of workers at the Trevose Fire Company on Thursday said, "this is a flagrant attempt to bust the union," and the workers there obviously agreed. Gross said it is strictly a matter of efficiency -- new technology and lower, competitive wages -- add up to lower drug costs.  

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