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Fire won't cost jobs or pay for workers, CEO says

August 15, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

BLUE RIDGE SUMMIT, Pa. - Thousands of books were lost in Tuesday's fire at the National Book Network, but none of the 500 workers lost their jobs, or even a day's pay, the president of the company said Thursday.

"There will be no layoffs. No one is going to lose their job," said Jed Lyons, president and CEO of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group Inc., which owns the distribution center.

"Yesterday was a day off with pay. Today was voluntary," with those who showed up getting their regular pay and eight hours of compensation time, Lyons said.

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About 75 percent of the 225 people who work in the warehousing and shipping portion of the 285,000-square-foot complex did come to work, he said.

"I was very pleased with the turnout, even though it was voluntary," Lyons said. Those who chose not to come in also were paid, he said.

"Oh my God, that was a great big relief," said Lisa Weaver of Waynesboro, Pa., who has worked at the warehouse for four years. "I think we're actually fortunate to be here today."

"We built it before. We'll build it again," said Linda Fogle of Waynesboro, supervisor for the pick and pack department, where the books are packaged for shipment to retailers. "It's our second home. We spend more time here than we do at home."

The distribution center is one of the largest private employers in that area of Franklin County. It draws workers from nearby Adams County and Frederick and Washington counties in Maryland.

Distribution Manager Sue Bumbaugh said the warehouse jobs average about $8 an hour.

In addition to the warehouse, the NBN complex also has sections for book manufacturing, print-on-demand publishing, editorial and typesetting and catalog printing, according to Lyons.

A company called Encore Marketing, which is not owned by Rowman & Littlefield, is also housed there, he said.

The extent of the damage is somewhat deceiving. Part of one row of 30-foot high racks of packaged books was gone and water stilled dripped from where the fire went through the roof. Through a hole in the wall, one could see a crane clawing through a small mountain of charred and soggy books.

Water from the sprinkler system and from fire hoses soaked the books stacked on several rows surrounding the site of the fire, but the extent of inventory loss and structural damage still was being assessed by insurers, Lyons said.

"The big unknown is the effect of smoke," Lyons said.

The warehouse still smelled like a drowned camp fire Thursday, but cardboard and plastic packaging may have saved much of the inventory in the warehouse, which Lyons said can hold 20 million books.

The cause of the fire in the 100,000-square-foot warehouse had still not been determined, Lyons said. Sgt. Vernon Ashway of the Washington Township Police Department was still looking into the cause, he said.

Blue Ridge Fire and Ambulance Chief John Fleagle still lists the cause as undetermined, a fire company member said Thursday afternoon.

"As bad as this fire was, I don't think it could have been handled any better," said Lyons, who credited Fleagle with managing a fire scene that drew units from 40 fire companies and departments.

He also thanked the employees who helped get operations up and running again.

Thursday and today, he said the company would be receiving and then shipping out 300,000 books including bestsellers such as "The Dr. Atkins Diet Book" and "Shut Up and Sing" by conservative writer Ann Coulter.

The warehouse contains 18,000 titles that have to be shipped to 10,000 retailers ranging from mom and pop bookstores to giants such as Barnes & Noble and Borders, Lyons said.

"August and September are our biggest months of the year," Lyons said. College textbooks and then holiday orders have to be moved out in the coming weeks, he said.

Much work remains to be done on the warehouse, according to Lyons.

He said the company is spending $100,000 just on water removal to prevent books from molding. Huge truck-hauled dehumidifiers will be brought in once the holes in the wall and roof are covered, a job he expected to be completed by the end of Thursday.

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