WEST POINT, Pa. — Members of an independent union of administrative workers at the drug giant Merck, Sharp & Dohme voted overwhelmingly on June 14 to merge into the Office and Professional Employees, OPEIU announced. The 96-4 vote will bring 287 workers at Merck’s West Point, Pa., facility into the larger union as Local 1937 – the year the Merck Independent Union was founded.

“Our affiliation with OPEIU will give us more strength in representing members as part of the 108,000-member OPEIU and the support of the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO and organized labor,” said MIU President Dottie Miller. “We evaluated the pros and cons of affiliating with several unions and chose OPEIU as the best fit.”

“We look forward to working with MIU to give them the additional leverage they need to carry out their work,” said OPEIU President Michael Goodwin. MIU will keep its autonomy within OPEIU, he added, after the larger union’s Organizing Director, Kevin Kistler, worked out an affiliation agreement, Goodwin added.

Ironically, the merger of the administrative workers’ union at Merck came one week before the U.S. Supreme Court showed another, larger group of drug company workers – those in pharmaceutical sales – could use union protection, too.

The justices ruled, 5-4, in a case by sales reps for GlaxoSmithKline, that pharmaceutical salespeople are “outside sales” workers exempt from the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, and thus ineligible for overtime pay.

The reps said “their primary (sales) objective was to obtain a nonbinding commitment from phy­sicians to prescribe” Glaxo’s drugs, the justices said. Reps called on MDs for 40 hours a week, and spent 10-20 more hours weekly on “events and other miscellaneous tasks.”

The reps were well paid, but said Glaxo should have paid them overtime. They lost in lower courts and on June 18, at the High Court. The Obama Labor Department tried to tighten the definition of an outside sales person, to make more workers eligible, the justices noted. But its attempt, which the Glaxo workers cited, was contrary to prior law and DOL’s own precedents. The majority tossed the workers’ complaint.




Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.