Williamsport native John Beauge obtained a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Penn State and a master’s from Northwestern University. He was photo editor of the Daily Collegian his senior year at Penn State. He worked for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette from 1963 to 1983, rising to the position of city editor. He has been a correspondent for the Harrisburg Patriot-News since 1983.
(Middleburg) — The owners of a closed Snyder County factory thanked the employees for their service throughout the years and then told them all their benefits ceased at Friday midnight.
Robert and Brooks Gronlund, owners of Wood-Mode Inc., wrote a text to workers Friday, saying they “are extremely appreciative” of the employees’ contributions and commitments. The company owners then confirmed all of them were terminated, as were their benefits.
“It was the final kick in the gut,” Michele Sanders, a 22-year employee of the company, said Saturday.
The privately-owned company in Kreamer, which produced custom wood cabinets, shut its doors Monday, leaving nearly 1,000 people without jobs. The abrupt closure of the plant stunned workers and community leaders.
Sanders called the automated messages employees received late Friday afternoon the “nail in the coffin. I don’t want to hear it anymore. Don’t thank me. You (owners) have money in the bank.”
“This is our thank you. All I get is an automated message, not a personal message,” she said. The Gronlunds were seldom seen in the production part of the plant when it was open, she said.
The 938 employees affected by the closing are devastated and angry, Sanders said, both by the loss of their jobs and the lack of communication, she explained.
Robert Garrett, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, has commented no one is getting answers. He has said the company’s closure is “catastrophic.”
The automated messages and texts employees received Friday informed them their health and life insurance plus a 401(k) plan had been terminated. They were told they would be given instructions for withdrawal or rollover of the pension funds.
Salaried and office hourly employees were told due to the company’s long-standing policy, they will not be paid for unused vacation time.
Employees have numerous questions and Sanders said they hope to get answers Tuesday morning when they have the opportunity to meet with members of the Special Response Team from the state Department of Labor and Industry.
That session is scheduled for 10 a.m. in Weber Chapel on the campus of Susquehanna University.
Wood-Mode said the company was forced to close after a prospective buyer on May 7 backed out and two days later learned a lender was unwilling to provide additional money so the company could stay open to consider another offer.
Sanders, who worked in the sanding department, said her area had plenty of work as did other parts of the large plant.
She has started looking for a new job but said because she has health insurance not linked to Wood-Mode, her situation is not as dire as others.
Three employees have filed separate federal lawsuits accusing Wood-Mode of not providing employees the required 60-day written termination notice as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
The plaintiffs want class-action certification for their complaints that seek pay and benefits class action for 60 days.