VWR Busts Unions. Yes, That VWR

If you’re a biologist and you’ve ever had to buy stuff for the lab, there are two catalogs you’re familiar with (in the U.S. anyway): Fischer and VWR. And this isn’t limited to biologists either. For readers who don’t have any idea what I’m talking about, you can think of these companies as the scientific equivalent of Amazon: a scientist can buy almost everything she might need for the lab from either of these companies.

Unfortunately, while VWR might be handy-dandy one-stop scientific shopping, VWR also busts unions while taking government subsidies (boldface mine):

A California-based company called VWR is busting its union, moving work to a non-union workforce a few hours away and receiving both federal and state tax incentives to do it. The scandal is yet another example of how companies can game the tax systems while hurting workers, and the government does little to stop them.

In Brisbane, Calif., 183 workers, members of Teamsters Local 853 that work at VWR, will lose their jobs at the end of the year when their scientific chemical warehouse closes. VWR, which is owned by Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, is moving the warehouse 230 miles away to Visalia, Calif. At the warehouse in Visalia, workers will be non-union and are expected to make half of what the current workers in Brisbane earn, according to the Teamsters.

The job losses will devastate local workers, many of whom are close to retirement age and will have difficulty finding jobs elsewhere….

The company, though, will benefit financially not only from halving workers’ salaries, but from a large amount of federal and state incentives to move. The City of Visalia, where the warehouse is being moved to, has received $2 million in federal Department of Commerce grants to do infrastructure improvements to the industrial park where the new warehouse will be located. VWR will also receive a total amount of $30,000 over a five-year period in tax credits from the state of California for every new worker hired….

“I think this is a formula that union and non-union companies are using to abuse federal funds. You are not creating new jobs. You are really just transferring jobs and getting paid to screw these people out of their employment,” says Teamsters International Vice President Rome Aloise. “There should be some restrictions on how federal funding is provided to not allow this kind of transfer to occur.”

Aloise assumes this is a case of ‘unintended consequences.’ It’s probably not. And yes, it’s insane that California tax dollars are being used to transfer jobs intrastate. But I digress.

I would argue if you’re in a position to make purchasing decisions for your group, you should avoid purchasing from VWR. Because it’s one thing to talk about economic inequality in the abstract, but it’s another thing to do something about it. This is something you can do.

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6 Responses to VWR Busts Unions. Yes, That VWR

  1. geeka says:

    We were encouraged to buy from VWR because it’s a woman owned company and it was the management of our internal bioscience stockroom. I’ll think twice now.

    . (and spell Fisher right!)

    • lee says:

      VWR is definitely not a woman-owned business. Its Chair/President/CEO is a man and only one director out of 10 is a woman. In addition, it is 83% owned by Madison Dearborn Partners, a private equity firm. Of Madison Dearborn Partner’s 16 managing directors, none are women.

  2. onkelbob says:

    The geographer in me compels a response. I agree, this is a gross misuse of the tax incentives and they should not be extended for events such as this one. Not jobs are being created, only moved. Nonetheless, to assign the motives solely to union busting is premature. Brisbane is located on the S.F. peninsula, a high cost region, with limited transportation infrastructure. (US101 and I-80) Visalia is out in the Central Valley, which is a low cost region along the CA99 / I-5 corridor. I do not know where VWR customers reside; however if there is a desire to consolidate SoCal and NoCal operations, it would make sense to locate in this region. They could easily expand (lands costs are much lower) and the shipping costs would not increase dramatically. The question would be, how are the customers divide. Yes the S.F. Bay is home to Genentech and other biotech, but Irvine and Riverside have also attracted that industry.
    I think the real proof of the pudding will be if the Visalia location undergoes a unionization drive, and VWR actively impedes it, then you can say it’s a deliberate attempt at union busting.

    • lee says:

      But Visalia and the Central Valley already has a problem with air quality — adding emissions from trucks pulling in and out of the warehouse is not going to help.

      VWR employees in Brisbane would say the unionbusting is well underway. VWR’s initial bargaining position was that no current employees would be considered for employment in Visalia. Later it changed its position to say that a limited number would be considered for employment at less than half their current pay.

  3. sciliz says:

    What? NOOOOOOOOOOO. I luv my VWR. They sponsor our postdoc thingy too.
    Oh well. My fisher rep is the best rep in the history of reps. I don’t mind another excuse to go there first.

  4. Pingback: One Scientist Boycotts VWR | Mike the Mad Biologist

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