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Pharma firms aggressive in cutting payrolls

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Pharmaceutical employees nationwide have faced the second-largest number of layoffs of any other sector so far this year, according to numbers released this week by a leading outplacement firm.

More than 34,000 pharmaceutical workers have been let go through the end of May, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., including nearly 7,000 during the most recent month. That compares to a little more than 51,000 industry layoffs by the end of May 2009, according to the blog Pharmalot, meaning the pace of layoffs appears to be ebbing.

The lower job-loss totals for pharma workers mesh with improving employment news for other sectors.

"Announced job cuts have, for all intents and purposes, returned to pre-recession levels," John A. Challenger, chief executive of the outplacement firm, said in a statement.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. employs about 5,000 people in the region as direct hires, while hundreds more serve as contractors and consultants for the firm. Several other biotech firms, including Amarin Pharma Inc. of Mystic, add to the region's reputation as a crucible for scientists.

Pfizer, with campuses in Groton and New London, has cut hundreds of employees nationwide in the past year, including dozens locally, though many of those leaving their jobs are being replaced with workers from other parts of the country.

The New York-based company, which is in the midst of efforts to rent or sell three office towers it owns in New London, has been shedding space and cutting jobs worldwide after an announced reduction of 19,500 expected as the firm downsizes after its merger last year with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. Despite planning to close its New London operations by the end of 2011, Pfizer has said it doesn't expect to reduce jobs locally but intends to accommodate most of its local scientists at the firm's Groton research campus.

Nationwide, the only sector with cuts exceeding the pharma layoff total was in the government and nonprofits area, which recorded more than 93,000 reductions so far this year. This sector is the only one in the top 5 for job cuts that has seen accelerating numbers of layoffs in the past year.

Retail has seen a dramatic comeback, as the 82,000 cuts announced during the same period last year has been cut to less than 22,000 through May of this year.

l.howard@theday.com

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