A mere two weeks prior to Christmas, the 136 workers at Rolf’s Patisserie in Lincolnwood, IL learned they no longer had a job. Without warning the factory president and owner, Lloyd Culbertson wrote on the company’s website a three-sentence announcement of the bakery’s closing.
Workers were told the plant would be closed on the 10th and 11th for a cleaning and would re-open the 12th. Culbertson, a former investment banker, asked for assistance from an employee to log him onto the website. The employee checked the site just 30 minutes later to see the devastating news.
“It was devastating,” says Deyanira Alvarez, who worked as a customer service representative for Rolf’s for four years. Alvarez and her co-workers were left with the following statement from the company:
December 10, 2011 – With deep regret Rolf’s Patisserie, Inc. announces the closing of its business in Lincolnwood, IL, effective immediately. Due to sharply higher operating costs, the cost of financing an expansion project and the inability to operationally meet the seasonal demands of our customers, we have made this difficult decision. We thank you for your patronage and we apologize for any inconvenience.
The incident, reminiscent of the Republic Windows closing in 2008, left workers scrambling prior to the holidays. They received their final paychecks later that week only to have them bounce, resulting in fees at their banks.
“After losing my job, my last check bouncing, our Christmas ruined–I’m still in total shock,” said Alvarez. “We didn’t have a Christmas dinner, we didn’t have any Christmas presents–nothing.”
By law employers are required to notify workers of an impending closure 60 days in advance or provide 60 days severance pay. The only other communication from Rolf’s seems to be a letter dated January 4, 2012, notifying them the plant closed on December 11, a full 25 days after the closing.
“We filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District court seeking 60 days statutory penalty for failure to give the workers any warning, whatsoever, that the plant was closing,” said Thomas Geoghegan, the lawyer for the employees of Rolf’s. “That what’s provided by federal law through the WARN Act. [Also] the full amount of their bounced paychecks and the vacation pay that accrued to them at the time of the closing.”
Geoghegan, said his firm has tried these types of cases before and can sometimes take quite a while to finish. The WARN Act applies to companies with more than 100 employees, as is the case with Rolf’s.
WARN offers protection to workers, their families and communities by requiring employers to provide notice 60 days in advance of covered plant closings and covered mass layoffs. This notice must be provided to either affected workers or their representatives (e.g., a labor union); to the State dislocated worker unit; and to the appropriate unit of local government.
In the meantime the workers from Rolf’s, who range from minimum wage earners to salaried employees, must make do in the slowly recovering economy. The bank and currency exchange fees will push some into choosing what priorities they must sacrifice to pay them off.
“Now that I have no job, how can I even afford to pay those fees?” asked Karen Leyva, a six-year office assistant at the factory.
The full reasoning of the closing is currently unknown but Geoghegan said during the press conference that First American Bank could be providing pressure on outstanding debts. Phone calls to Lloyd Culbertson’s home and business were not returned.
“We all know this is a bad economy. But the workers and their families are the ones who suffer,” says Adam Kader, director of Arise Chicago’s Workers Center. “It’s a microcosm of working families’ pain under the recession. Workers who gave their lives to this company have been shoved into the street with only a check marked ‘insufficient funds’ in their pockets.”
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