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Labor Issues
Express Scripts and the PC(USA)

More on Express Scripts vs. its labor union
[3-5-11]

In the Fall 2010 issue of Network News we reported on the SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania challenges to a plan by Express Scripts (which handles prescription orders for the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, among others) to close its facility of Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Their plan was to move that work to a non-union plant in the St. Louis area.

We were happy to report on our website in December that members of the union in Bensalem had voted overwhelmingly to approve a settlement that will preserve approximately 400 jobs at the Street Road facility, reversing the Company’s announcement of plans to shutter all of its Bensalem operations. It also provides a substantial severance package to approximately 500 workers facing layoff as a result of the closure of the Marshall Lane facility and some downsizing at Street Road. (Click here for more on the struggle of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania to gain just treatment from Express Scripts.)

PVJ member Dennis Maher, of Lake Luzerne, NY, provides the latest update:

Here is a recent follow up story on Express Scripts:

Earlier we learned that Express Scripts was consolidating its operations in the St. Louis area where its employees are not unionized. This article describes company celebrations for many millions of dollars of state and local tax incentives to help them expand. Expansion includes more layoffs and moving an undisclosed number of jobs perhaps to India or the Philippines.

Workers at Bensalem settled in December with good results, ONLY because they were unionized. I raised the labor issues at Bensalem with the Board of Pensions in November and received this answer:

Dear Dr. Maher,

Thank you for your recent email regarding Express Scripts. The Board of Pensions of the PCUSA has no comment.

Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.

Best Regards,

Johnson, Mary [unsigned]

So the PCUSA has no comment about labor issues with its contractor for prescription drugs. Also, the PCUSA nowhere has any comment that I can find on the labor issues in Wisconsin and other states, where collective bargaining itself is threatened. 

[NOTE from your WebWeaver:  Since Dr. Miller sent this note, we are glad to note that Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons has written a letter to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, urging him to call off a plan to balance the state budget in part by de-unionizing state workers.  Click here >> ]

I am thinking how far we have come since the days when social consciousness was institutionalized in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Few today are interested in witness, but only in new gimmicks to save a church that may be declining because it has little integrity in its witness.

Denny Maher
Lake Luzerne NY

Express Scripts workers ratify settlement agreement maintaining Bensalem facility and saving 400 jobs

Settlement reverses company’s plan to shutter all Bensalem operations     [12-11-10] 

Bensalem, PA – December 10, 2010 – Workers at Express Scripts, Inc. facilities in Bensalem, PA – members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania – voted overwhelmingly yesterday and today to ratify a settlement agreement that will preserve approximately 400 jobs at the Street Road facility, reversing the Company’s announcement of plans to shutter all of its Bensalem operations.  

In addition to maintaining most of the company’s workforce at the Street Road facility in Bensalem, the settlement provides a substantial severance package to approximately 500 workers facing layoff as a result of the closure of the Marshall Lane facility and some downsizing at Street Road.

The settlement resolves a months-long conflict between the company and the Union. Express Scripts is the country’s 2nd largest pharmacy benefit manager, and SEIU is the largest labor union in North America.  

“This settlement will keep hundreds of good jobs here in Bensalem, and make sure anyone who gets laid off will be able to provide for their families in this harsh economy,” said Linda Chan, a Pharmacy Tech at the Marshall Lane facility, and a member of the union bargaining committee. 

In mid-October, the company announced it would close the Marshall Lane facility on December 16th, 2010. Then, following the workers’ overwhelming rejection of the company’s previous final settlement offer, Express Scripts announced it would close the Street Road facility effective February 1st, 2011.

SEIU members have engaged in a national campaign to garner support and urge Express Scripts to maintain quality jobs in Bensalem.

The 2-year agreement approved today:

bulletRescinds the company’s decision to close the Street Road facility and maintains approximately 400 jobs there, with a commitment to keep the facility open over the life of the agreement.
bulletMaintains affordable, family health care in the workers’ current health insurance plan.
bulletReinstates, with back pay, the three workers who were suspended for activity in support of the fight to save these jobs. 
bulletProvides a substantial severance package for workers being laid off – including a lump sum payment of $10,000 plus an additional week of pay for every year of service up to 10 weeks. In addition, workers will receive 5 months of employer-paid health care benefits or an additional $5,000 in severance pay, at employees’ option. For an employee earning $12 per hour, the severance package is the equivalent of up to 10 months and 1 week of full pay.
bulletGives recall rights for laid off workers if the facility reopens in the future.

“This has been a very difficult challenge. I am saddened that many people who helped build this company are being laid off. But by sticking together we saved 400 good jobs for this community and won an excellent severance package for laid off workers that most non-union workers could only dream about,” said Rickie Stemley, a Pharmacy Tech at the Marshall Lane facility. 

“I am proud that we were able to save these jobs,” said Pam Rogers, President of the union at the two facilities. “The support we got from the community, other labor unions and people across the country was overwhelming.”


One union member shared this comment with us:
 

It's official, the battle is over and although we have lost roughly 600 workers, Bensalem is still standing. I am sad, exhausted and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the support we got from strangers who did not know us, but stood behind us and I cannot thank you enough. I don't think you really understand the impact your article had on workers, who thought no one cared.

This process has changed me forever in both bad and good ways. I am going to do a lot of praying and reading my bible to ask that God lift the bitterness I feel right now and that I just can't seem to shake. I am angry but I know that the people who are leaving us are happy that we were able to get such a great severance package for them. They stood to take away just one week’s pay for every year they worked, up to 10 years and so now they are walking away with almost a years salary. Great accomplishment, but still makes me sad that we are losing such loyal workers. Happy that 400 frightened workers will live to fight another day and hopeful that corporate ESI will now realize that they cannot intimidate workers any more, and take a positive approach to improve relations between workers and management.

So it's back to reading prescriptions 10 hours a day, 4 days a week and serving the patients we care about. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU

Have a blessed holiday and thanks for doing what you do.

Express Scripts vs. workers (the Service Employees Union International)     [11-27-10]

The struggle which we reported a few days ago is continuing, as union members seek ways to get Express Scripts not to close its order fulfillment facility in Bensalem, PA. I have not been able to get in touch directly with anyone from the SEIU, but it appears that Express Scripts suspended without pay a few of the workers who were involved in the union protests. They were charged with communicating with ESI clients, which apparently meant specifically the Presbyterian Church (USA).

For a bit more from the union’s perspective, click here and scroll down a bit, to the second headline.

One Presbyterian minister sent this note in response to our earlier report:

I wrote the Board of Pensions – I am very troubled by Express Scripts wanting $8million in concessions from its workers in Bensalem or they will close the plants there. Especially since George Paz, the CEO, makes about $8 million a year. How about he gives up a year's salary? I don't want to save money through Express Scripts at the expense of these workers and for management's benefit. The Board of Pensions should get involved in this and threaten to go elsewhere for prescriptions.

Dennis Maher
Lake Luzerne, NY

Have you done anything in response to this issue? Or do you have any information to add to our slender supply of news? Please send a note, to be shared here!

Is our PC(USA) supporting union busting?
prepared by Doug King

November 13, 2010


For some time now, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, a branch of the Service Employees International Union, has been calling on Express Scripts to cancel its plan to close its prescription shipping facility in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, which would put 365 people out of work, many of whom are low wage workers with families.

The union workers have offered $8 million in wage and benefit concessions to help keep the plant open. Even though these concessions included giving in to the company’s demand that workers give up their pension plan, so far the company management has been unwilling with the union, which unites 20,000 health care workers from all areas of the health care industry in Pennsylvania.

According to a report on October 15 by Jane M. Von Bergen, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “the company insists it's a done deal,” which was announced to employees in their break rooms on October 8. The plan is to close the plant on December 16. Von Bergen adds that “Express Scripts, which reported $24.7 billion in revenue and $827.6 million in profit in 2009, said it would move the work to its new facility in St. Louis.”

The union asserts that workers at the Bensalem plant have a high rate of productivity, exemplified last July when they filled a record 90,000 prescriptions in one day. The St. Louis facility, to which the company plans to transfer the work, is still in a research and development stage, and would not have the skilled personnel needed to do the job, they say. The union questions whether the new system will be able to handle all the processing necessary to get prescription orders filled and shipped on time.

It’s worth noting that the two Bensalem plants and a small facility in Albuquerque, N.M., are the company's only union shops. And the sizable concessions offered by the union are apparently not enough to satisfy the company, which seems determined to move this work to a non-union plant.

Union members have journeyed to Washington to talk with legislators, and to urge the Department of Defense to drop its contracts with Express Scripts. Earlier in October, more than a dozen Express Scripts workers traveled to St. Louis to confront George Paz, the company's CEO, for threatening to close the Bensalem facility.  Apparently it made no difference.

Paz, by the way, is reported by Forbes to have received $8.57 million in total compensation last year. That puts him at number 10 in the ranking of executive incomes in the health care equipment and services area. Forbes ranks him at number 120 for compensation among all CEOs in the United States.

Now the union is approaching a number of organizations that have sizable contracts with Express Scripts for mail-order prescription medicine, asking their support. One of those customers just happens to be the Presbyterian Church (USA). So a few days ago, a delegation of Express Scripts workers, who are union members, went to the main office of the Presbyterian Board of Pensions, seeking to make the church aware of the issue.

One Express Scripts employee and union member, in an email dated November 11, 2010, relates what happened, and offers her own thoughtful comment:

We made several calls to the Board of Pensions to get a meeting but they did not respond. So last week we went downtown Philly with packages of the same information I emailed to you. We went to the Fraternal Order of Police and other clients that do business with Express Scripts, and we were received graciously, so we decided that since we could not get a meeting with the Board of Pensions we would stop by and give them a package. The security guard called upstairs and they were told that someone would come down to accept our package. After 30 minutes no one showed up, so the security called again and this time they said that they had no one to come down to meet with us. We left a package with the security and left. We then sent EVERY board member a packet which had the same things I emailed you. Again ... no response. What we want to do is just sit down with them and tell them what we think will happen to the customers we serve, should Bensalem facility close down. Bensalem has the most seasoned workers, we have the lowest error rates and we are the ONLY facility on the east coast, so if prescriptions are filled in St. Louis the patients we serve will have slower turn around time.

Express Scripts is union busting, bottom line, but the general public does not care about that, what they care about is how it affects customers so we want to let them know. 

What I don't get is how Christian people can say labor disputes are not a part of the church! Maybe it is just me, but my faith touches everything I do, and I cannot say that God has no place at my job, or is MIA [missing in action] from Monday to Friday between the hours of 9 to 6. God encompasses EVERYTHING I do from my children to my marriage to my job and everything in between. In today's economy throwing possibly 1,000 people out of work could place them at the door steps of churches and food pantries.

What does this have to do with the PC(USA)? We’re one of Express Scripts’ clients, since over 120,000 people with medical coverage under the Board of Presbyterians have their prescriptions filled by the company. The union believes this puts the Board of Pensions among the top 25% of Express Scripts’ largest clients.

Our church’s social policies clearly support workers’ rights, just wages, and the principle of labor unions as a means to achieving justice.

Clearly the General Assembly and the church’s members cannot dictate policies of the Board of Pensions. That is being demonstrated right now in the BoP’s response (or lack of response) to the General Assembly’s call for equal treatment of same-gender partners in terms of medical and pension benefits. But perhaps we as members of the PC(USA), and many of us as ministers whose pension and medical benefits are managed by the BoP, may want to ask a few serious questions.

For instance, does the Board of Pensions pay attention to the policies and behavior of its sub-contractors? Does it exercise due diligence in seeking suppliers whose labor practices are to some degree reasonable and fair? Is the BoP willing to meet and talk with groups that have concerns they want to discuss with it, or will it simply refuse to meet those with such concerns? The SEIU union members are asking for just 15 minutes or half an hour for a small delegation to meet with someone in a responsible position in the BoP.

Can our church engage in this effort for justice? If the Board of Pensions will not talk with the employees of Express Scripts, nor with the company itself, can some of us as ministers and members of the PC(USA) speak up? Click here for a letter (in MS Word fomat) drafted by the union members, that you might revise for yourself and send to CEO George Paz. Or you could make a phone call to him, at (314) 996-0900.  Perhaps some other office in the PC(USA) might engage in a conversation with the company, if our Board of Pensions is reluctant to do so. The union is clearly asking the church to provide them with a little leverage with the company, to avoid the loss of nearly 400 jobs – or 1,000 jobs if both Bensalem plants are closed.

In short, do we care about God’s call to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God?  Would we want to agree publicly with the last paragraph in the union member’s statement about the SEIU’s visit to the BoP? (It really looks like pretty good theology to me!) And might we act accordingly, and ask our church to do the same?

For more information, visit the SEIU website, http://www.seiuhealthcarepa.org/action/insideesi/default.aspx

NOTE:  We have contacted Express Scripts, asking for their comments on this report.  As soon as we receive any response from them, we will post it here.
Here’s another view of the workers’ struggle for justice at Express Scripts

Corporate Greed as a Family Value? Express Scripts' New War on Union Workers

by Mike Doyle   [11-14-10]

This should be the story of a win-win situation. In the middle of the Great Recession, a nationally prominent mega-corporation manages to achieve phenomenal profitability and decides to share its good fortune with the wage workers who helped make that profit possible. All of that happens to be true about Express Scripts (Nasdaq: ESRX), the nation’s second-largest pharmacy benefits manager--all except for the decision about how to thank its workers. To show their gratitude, Express Scripts managers went in a different direction. First, they publicly lauded union workers at their most efficient processing plant. Then they told them they were losing their jobs. Sometimes corporate America’s capacity to stick it to the little guy is so astounding, you can’t help but feel impressed by the chutzpah.    The full article >>

[If you read this article, don’t miss the closing sentence!]

We'd like to hear your views on this issue!
Please send a note to dougking2@aol.com,
to be shared here.

 

GA actions going to the presbyteries   

A number of the most important actions of the 219th General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book of Order.

We're providing resources to help inform the reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.

Our three areas of primary interest are:

bullet Amendment 10-A, which would remove the current ban on lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.

bullet Amendment 10-2, which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

bullet Amendment 10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government that was approved by the Assembly.
 

If you like what you find here,
we hope you'll help us keep Voices for Justice going ... and growing!

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Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.

 

Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.

 

John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.

 

John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

 

Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!

 

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