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Lawyer says tannery fights payments

July 04, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Garden State Tanning is challenging the unemployment claims of more than 150 employees who were laid off before, during and after last month's strike, according to a lawyer representing the workers.

The automotive leather manufacturer is arguing that the employees are not eligible to receive unemployment checks because the layoffs were strike-related, said William Proctor, who has been hired by the union to represent the employees.

Proctor said employees are entitled to draw unemployment for the weeks they were laid off before and after the strike, although not during the nine days of the strike.

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"You are entitled to benefits if you are laid off through no fault of your own," he said.

Company decisions made for business or economic reasons are not under the employees' control, he said.

Mark D. Lecher, president and chief operating officer of Garden State, did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday.

Proctor is to meet with affected employees July 10 at the American Legion. Employees can come at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., depending on their schedule, he said.

Some workers have gone as long as six weeks without a paycheck, Proctor said.

Bobby Colvin, president of the local Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers at Garden State, said his phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from employees wondering about their unemployment checks.

Some employees received checks and were told to return them to the state because of the dispute, he said.

About 750 union workers at the company's two plants in Williamsport were on strike from June 1 through June 10 after labor talks broke down. A new three-year contract eventually was ratified.

After the strike ended, Garden State permanently moved 90 cutting department jobs to the company's Fleetwood, Pa., plant, and another 100 employees were temporarily laid off following the strike, union officials have said.

Colvin said he thinks the company is trying to punish workers for going on strike.

"They're just being vindictive. They're just mad at us because we striked, I guess," Colvin said.

Kathy Lynch, 37, of Hagerstown, said she filed for unemployment when she was laid off the week after the strike was settled.

A single mother of two teenagers, Lynch said she has had to dip into her savings to make ends meet.

"I'm paycheck to paycheck like everybody else," she said.

Lynch said she doesn't make a lot of money at the third-shift job, which she's been doing for the past three years. But the medical benefits and lack of options keeps her there.

"The way the economy is you don't want to go look for another job," she said.

A hearing on Garden State workers' unemployment benefits has been tentatively scheduled for July 15 in Baltimore, Proctor said.

The Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation on Thursday was unable to confirm the date and location of the hearing.

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