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Garden State workers deal with strike fallout

July 14, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Lynn Carbaugh had barely returned to work after giving birth to her twin sons, Cody and Cory, when she learned she was being laid off from Garden State Tanning.

Her husband, Terry Carbaugh, also was laid off after an early June strike was settled.

Things were difficult enough, but then the Williamsport couple learned they would not be getting unemployment checks.

The Carbaughs are among at least 178 Garden State employees whose unemployment claims have been held up because of the strike.

Hearings to sort out the claims tentatively have been scheduled for July 30 in Hagerstown.

The Carbaughs both are back at work, but it will be another week before both of them receive full-week paychecks.

On Friday, Terry Carbaugh got his first regular paycheck since the June 1 strike.

Carbaugh said he had to borrow money from his sister to pay the rent on the family's apartment in Williamsport. They also got behind on their car payments, he said.

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Their priority has been feeding and taking care of their 3-month-old sons and Lynn Carbaugh's daughter, Bethany Henson, 9.

"I don't think it's right," he said. "If the strike was settled, how can they hold the unemployment? How can they blame us?"

The Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Workers hired Hagerstown lawyer William Proctor to help those who are eligible for unemployment receive their checks as soon as possible.

Company officials have said they are not fighting the unemployment claims and will abide by the decision of the state.

The state has delayed the claims to determine whether the employees are eligible for unemployment benefits, said Marco Merrick, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Striking workers are not eligible to draw unemployment, he said.

Proctor said he is optimistic the state will validate the majority of the 178 unemployment claims. About 30 of the 178 claims are by people who filed for unemployment pay the week of the strike.

Those with legitimate claims are being forced to wait for their money. That has put some area residents in a financial bind.

Kathy Lynch, 37, of Hagerstown, has had to dip into her savings to make ends meet. She is the single mother of two teenagers.

The food bank at Zion Lutheran Church in Williamsport was stretched to its limits during and after the strike. The cupboards were nearly bare in late June, according to a published report.

When his insurance benefits lapsed after a month on layoff, Richard Sodergren, 63, began taking only half the recommended dosage of his cholesterol-lowering medication because of the cost, said his wife, Nellie Sodergren.

As she waited for him in the parking lot of the Williamsport American Legion last week, where Sodergren and other employees met with Proctor, she talked about how she wished her husband of 44 years would retire.

Sodergren already gets a pension from Pangborn Corp., but he took a job mixing paint for the automotive leather manufacturer three years ago, mainly because of the health-insurance benefits, his wife said.

He had triple-bypass surgery about 10 years ago, she said. He takes medicine for his heart and for high cholesterol.

"It seems like anytime we get a little bit of money saved, something happens," she said.

Nellie Sodergren is semi-retired. All the companies she worked for, including London Fog and Hagerstown Shoe Factory, have closed.

Richard Sodergren returned to work last Monday, but he still has the unemployment claim hanging over his head.

"To tell you the truth, I wish he'd just go ahead and retire," she said.

Both of his parents died in their late 30s of heart problems. She said she would like to see him enjoy retirement and spend time on his favorite hobby, which is hunting.

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