Wood-Mode closes for business

Sentinel photo by BRADLEY KREITZER
A sign outside of the closed Wood-Mode manufacturing plant in Kreamer. The company informed employees of the closing Monday afternoon.

KREAMER — The general offices of Wood-Mode Custom Cabinetry Inc. closed for business on Monday, recently terminated employee Curtis Guernsey, of Paxtonville, told The Sentinel. Other terminated workers and their family members confirmed the plant’s closure to a number of media sources.

Wood-Mode is the largest employer in Snyder County and its employment base stretches into Mifflin County.

According to media reports, the workers were notified of the closure Monday afternoon and were escorted off the property by State Police, Middleburg Police and officers from the Snyder County Sheriff’s office.

“Please be assured that the state’s (Rapid Response Coordination Services) process has been alerted and are mobilizing,” said Robert Garrett, president of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, based in Shamokin Dam. Garrett said state Rep. Fred Keller (R-85) and state Sen. John Gordoner (R-27) have been contacted and the legislators initiated the RRCS early intervention service, designed to aid workers and employers affected by plant closures and to assist with displaced employees’ immediate needs, including unemployment, food and medical services.

“All of the buttons that need to be pushed have been pushed,” Garrett said. “We want to wrap employees with the knowledge that help is on the way (and) do anything we can to mitigate the stress people are facing. The people of the Greater Susquehanna Valley have their backs.”

Garrett said once the meeting of employees’ needs is underway, the GSVCC will work at trying to get the company up and running again in Snyder County.

A small number of employees are remaining on staff at the Kreamer plant said one employee. 62-year-old Keith Lauver, an employee for the company for 43 years, also told WKOK-AM 1070 some workers will be called back Wednesday to finish final orders and products.

The shutdown came as a surprise to many associated with the company, especially the company’s hundreds of employees. When contacted by phone Monday afternoon, Stoner Bunting Public Relations employee Kristen Jenkins, media contact for Wood-Mode, said she knew nothing about the closure.

Two former employees who agreed to speak on the condition they would not be named said they were told they were not allowed to keep their health insurance once their employment was terminated.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act requires continuation of health coverage to be offered to covered employees, their spouses, former spouses and dependent children when group health coverage would otherwise be lost due to certain specific events, such as no-fault termination of the employee’s employment or reduction in the number of employment hours. COBRA requires the employer to notify the health plan the reason for the qualifying event within 30 days.

The department website also states the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act protects workers, their families and communities by requiring employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 calendar days advance written notice of a plant closing and mass layoffs, affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment. The only exemptions to the 60-day notice provision of the WARN Act are if the closure is of a temporary facility or if the closing is the result of the completion of a particular project or undertaking.

The exemption only applies if the workers knew in advance that their employment was limited to the duration of the facility, project or undertaking and the employer cannot label an ongoing project “temporary” to evade its obligations under WARN.

An employer also does not need to give notice to strikers or workers participating in a bargaining unit that lead to a strike, nor do they need to give notice when permanently replacing a person who is an “economic striker,” as defined under the National Labor Relations Act.

Though the penalty for violating WARN is the company’s liability to provide each aggrieved employee an amount that includes up to 60 days of back pay and benefits, the the U.S. Department of Labor said the enforcement of WARN requirements is handled through district courts, placing the burden of legal action on the workers, their representatives and units of government. The labor department’s Employment and Training Administration administers WARN, but has no enforcement role in seeking damages for workers who do not receive adequate notice of termination. The State Dislocated Worker Units can provide information and guidance on notice requirements in their states.

Robert Wentzel, division chief of state operations in the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Bureau of Workforce Partnership and Operations, is the Pennsylvania Dislocated Worker Unit contact. He could not be reached by phone Monday.