Pearl River Faces Big Lay Offs

The small suburban hamlet of Pearl River sits nearly 20 miles north of New York City. In January, The New York Times set the spotlight on the Rockland County community for its charming homes and above-average schools. But recently, the town got some devastating news. Its biggest employer, Pfizer, which is headquartered in New York City, first announced it would lay off 600 workers in Pearl River, and recently revealed it would cut another 1,250 over the next five years.

"Everyone here is going to lose their jobs," said one longtime Pfizer employee across the street from the 550-acre facility where Pfizer does biotechnology and health care product manufacturing. The worker asked not to be identified after learning his job would be eliminated, but WNYC confirmed that he works at the Pfizer plant. "It was like a ton of bricks. Everyone is walking around like they are walking dead."

The Pearl River Pfizer lay offs are part of a larger global restructuring plan. Last year, Pfizer purchased Wyeth, one of its rivals, for $68 billion. In May, the company announced it would shut down eight manufacturing plants over the next five years and cut 6,000 jobs, including positions at Pearl River.

Residents agree that it’s a major setback for the Pearl River community. Pfizer currently contributes more than $27 million in taxes to the hamlet, $20 million of which fund the school district's budget. The lay offs put a third of the school budget in jeopardy. Local merchants are also worried. "It affects my business," said Joe Iannuzzi, who has owned the gas station across the street from the Pfizer manufaturing complex for 15 years. He worries that less Pfizer business means fewer gas tanks getting filled. "It's going to affect the area terribly."

But not everyone is pessimistic. Pfizer announced that it would keep some of its Pearl River operations, including 1,000 plus workers at its research and development division. "It's terrible news of course for the employees," said Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. "That being said, we are still pleased that Pfizer is going to make Pearl River a research and development global site. Our hope is that it will grow over time."