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Laid-off AB&C employees sue company

March 20, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

EASTERN PANHANDLE, W.Va. -- Three local lawyers have filed a suit on behalf of laid-off AB&C Group Inc. workers in a case in which they hope to represent about 400 workers in an attempt to recoup about $1.6 million in wages and penalties.

The suit comes after last week's shutdown of AB&C Group Inc., which handles bulk mailing for various companies.

Workers at the AB&C plant off Fairfax Avenue in Ranson, W.Va., were expecting paychecks last Friday but were instead told to clean out their desks because they would not be able to return to work this week. Some workers received checks while others did not, officials said.

Workers at a AB&C Group plant in a former General Motors plant in Berkeley County faced the same situation, officials said.

David Hammer, one of the attorneys filing the suit, said some workers are owed three weeks worth of pay. On top of that, employers must pay a penalty when they do not give workers their paychecks, Hammer said.

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The penalty is three times the amount paid, Hammer said.

Hammer estimates that about $1.6 million will be sought for the workers in the case.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Berkeley County Circuit Court, is being brought by Carla Coble and Stephanie Laing, who worked as "pickers" at the Berkeley County plant off W.Va. 9 west of Martinsburg, Hammer said.

Pickers are workers who would pack mailings for AB&C Group client companies, Hammer said.

Hammer said he and the other two attorneys in the case -- Robert J. Schiavoni and Garry G. Geffert -- are talking to other AB&C Group workers and it is believed that the suit could end up representing about 400 workers.

To represent the workers, the case is being filed as a class action suit and a judge will rule whether the suit can proceed under that classification, Hammer said.

The suit alleges that workers were not paid wages due to them within 72 hours of their discharge, a requirement under the state Wage Payment and Collection Act.

"You don't just fire people," Hammer said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

In a news release, Hammer said there is a fundamental contract between employers and employees: an honest day's work for a day's pay.

"The defendants broke that contract and caused harm to more than 375 employees and their families. We intend to enforce that contract," Hammer said in the release.

Hammer said in the release that he anticipates AB&C Group and BlueSky Brands Inc., a company that later acquired AB&C Group, will soon file for bankruptcy protection.

Because bankruptcy could delay the workers' attempt to recoup their wages, lawyers in the case decided to bring suit against a private equity firm that they say was directing the actions of AB&C Group.

Reliant Equity Investors LLC, was named along with nine individual defendants in the suit.

The individuals were either affiliated with BlueSky Brands, AB&C or Reliant, according to the suit.

A woman who answered the phone Wednesday at Reliant Equity Investors in Chicago referred questions to Thomas Darden, who did not immediately return the call.

AB&C Group officials have not been available for comment since Sunday.

About 680 AB&C Group workers were been laid off between the two plants, said Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson, who has been working to get assistance for the workers.

About 280 of those workers were laid off four to six months ago and the remaining were laid off last week, Unger said.

A daylong assistance program is being planned for the workers next Tuesday at the Lions Club on Third Avenue in Ranson to help them deal with job training help and health care assistance.

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