Paul Hudson faces down French unions in fight to restructure Sanofi
Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is facing a familiar adversary in his efforts to cut up to 1,680 jobs from the French pharma giant: French unions.
Around 200 union members staged a one-day strike Tuesday at Sanofi’s main Covid-19 vaccine plant in Marcy-l’Étoile to protest the cuts, The Associated Press reported, with other members joining at other facilities across the country.
France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire, meanwhile, went on French radio twice this week to talk about the company. On Monday, per Reuters, he told RTL that Sanofi would not close any plants or lay off any employees in the restructuring. But on Wednesday morning, he re-emerged on BFM and said he would like three things from the drugmaker, including confirmation that there will be no site closures and layoffs.
The controversy is the latest standoff between Sanofi and France’s significant labor movement. Chris Viehbacher, the company’s first non-French CEO, reportedly lost his job in part because he proposed cutting 5% to 7% of the company’s workforce, triggering massive public blowback. His replacement, Olivier Brandicourt, put unions back on high alert two months after he got the job, by talking about the high cost of industrial plants and promising a new five-year strategic plan.
The newest tussle is over Paul Hudson’s own strategic plan. Shortly after the Novartis exec was tapped as Brandicourt’s replacement, he began outlining the rethink. In June, he announced plans to cut 1,680 jobs, including 1,000 in France, over the following 3 years. It was one step in a larger effort to save more than €2 billion by 2022 and reorient the company around a heavier but more tailored approach to R&D, scrapping cardiovascular and diabetes programs but doubling down on areas such as oncology and gene therapy.
In a statement this week provided to Endpoints News, Sanofi insisted that any employee departures would be voluntary and noted that they planned to spend €6 billion in R&D in France over the next 3 years.
“Sanofi has engaged in dialogue and in-depth listening to the suggestions of the social partners in order to define the social support measures most suited to the employment issues of each of the employees likely to be affected,” they said. “Negotiations with our social partners are based on accompanying measures that are exclusively voluntary and without constraints.”
Le Maire commended Sanofi on their decision to shift R&D efforts, calling it “wise,” but asked for greater clarity on what that R&D strategy would look like for France.
CGT, the largest trade union in France, meanwhile, has argued that persistent cuts have actually hampered Sanofi’s R&D efforts, even playing a role in the significant setbacks they’ve seen in their efforts to develop a Covid-19 vaccine with GlaxoSmithKline, the newswire RFI reported. The cuts, they said, are part of a pattern of a 15-year-long disinvestment that resulted in Sanofi “losing the race for the vaccine against Covid.”