Protesters to target Pfizer today

Hartford - Riding the spreading wave of anti-Wall Street fervor, a group of left-wing demonstrators are planning a "vigil" today outside Pfizer Inc.'s Groton campus to protest government subsidies for corporations.

The "vigil for the middle class," scheduled to start at 1 p.m. near the firm's Eastern Point Road entrance, is organized by Connecticut Working Families, a political coalition of community groups, labor unions and activists.

The demonstrators say they are targeting Pfizer because the pharmaceutical giant accepted tens of millions of dollars in local and state subsidies to grow in New London, and then opted to abandon the city and eventually ship 400 more jobs to Cambridge, Mass. from Groton and other locations.

"As soon as the money is gone, the jobs go," Working Families spokesman Joe Dinkin said Wednesday. "This goes to show that these corporate handouts aren't creating lasting jobs."

The planned demonstration comes at a time when offshoots of the Occupy Wall Street movement are popping up throughout the country and in several Connecticut cities, including New London, New Haven and Hartford.

Working Families' organizers acknowledged similarities between their core messages and that of Wall Street protesters, but cautioned against drawing too many parallels between today's event and the New York-based protest movement, now in its fourth week.

"It's wonderful to see people starting to speak their piece about the growth in [wealth] inequality that's been developing in this country," said Lindsay Farrell, the coalition's legislative director, "but we've been fighting on these issues for years and we're going to continue to fight on them long after the Occupy Wall Street family of protests resolves."

The Pfizer vigil would mark the second in a series of Working Families protest events in the state, which kicked off Wednesday in Orange outside of PEZ Candy Inc.'s North American headquarters, where nearly 1 million PEZ rolls are made each day.

Dinkin said the protests were scheduled weeks ago and were timed to occur before the state legislature's Oct. 26 special session on economic development and job growth.

Farrell, who took part in Wednesday's protest, said the coalition wants Connecticut's government to stop offering subsidies and tax breaks to corporations that make short-term promises of jobs.

She pointed to a 2009 investigation by The Day on how the city of New London and the state contributed at least $160 million in tax incentives, grants and infrastructure improvements to attract Pfizer and its research center. But the company decided to leave the site once the last of the tax abatements expired.

"A lot of companies have had their tax burden significantly reduced and they're stockpiling cash and paying their CEOs exorbitant amounts while continuing to reduce employment in the United States," Farrell said. "Pfizer is just a classic example of that."

Asked for comment, a Pfizer spokeswoman issued the following statement: "We are dedicated to being good corporate citizens and business partners in the communities where we live and work."

Working Families targeted PEZ because the candy maker was the 2006 beneficiary of a "sweet deal," a $2 million state loan with 2-percent interest to help with a $2.5 million expansion project and a $1 million equipment purchase.

The loan required the company to retain its full-time work force of 127 jobs and add at least 20 more jobs by 2011. PEZ opted to exercise an option for an early job audit, showing 148 total jobs in 2007 to satisfy the loan requirement.

But the Austrian-owned company has since cut its full-time work force there to 130 workers - only three more than when the deal closed.

In an interview, PEZ President Joe Vittoria said the Orange facility downsized its full-time work force because of the recession. He pointed out that the manufacturing and distribution site currently employs 85 part-time workers, bringing the total work force to 215.

And part-time workers play a key role for PEZ, Vittoria said, as demand for the tablet candy and iconic dispensers peaks during holiday seasons. At the moment, the company has openings for 12 jobs.

Vittoria said the state loan also required that his company stay in Connecticut for at least a decade."In today's environment," he said, "that's a pretty restrictive covenant."

j.reindl@theday.com

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included the wrong number of jobs being sent by Pfizer to Cambridge, Mass. The correct figure is about 400, which includes jobs from Groton and other locations. 

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