KREAMER, Penn. – Wood-Mode's 938 employees were shocked when they were suddenly out of a job last month. They were informed through a letter, hand-delivered to employees as they arrived to work, that said the company had been "seeking financing and other alternatives, including new capital and a possible sale transaction that would have enabled it to continue operations." That transaction fell through.
The news shook the industry - launching lawsuits from former employees, leaving dealers around the country in a state of limbo - and frustration mounted. The county struggled to find work for the displaced employees and dealers voiced their disappointment in the company's lack of communication.
More than a dozen prospective buyers have been referred to the Governor's Action Team, PennLive reported. The team hopes to be prepared for a possible sale. It said though that it appears Wood-Mode is moving toward bankruptcy.
That means reopening could take years, said PennLive. Central Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Robert Garrett said "for some reason the owners have been unreasonable."
U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. reportedly inferred about Wood-Mode's lack of communcation in a letter addressed to company chairman Robert Gronlund. Casey and others are wondering why the closure was so abrupt. They've yet to receive an answer.
The letter and a mass text have been among the only communication between Wood-Mode employees and ownership since the closure.
"After 77 years of business, the company and ownership truly regret the impact of this action to our employees, the community, and our loyal customers and suppliers," Wood-Mode said in the text. "We are extremely appreciative of everyone’s commitment and service to Wood-Mode throughout the years."
The employees were forced to leave the plant without some of their personal belongings and weren't allowed to return until a month later. They were notified through an automated message. Four days later, employees learned their health insurance was being terminated.
Two employees are suing the company after they were laid off without adequate notice.
William Swede and Curtis Tego filed separate lawsuits against the former cabinet maker, alleging the company failed to provide the 60-day written termination notice required under the Worker Adjustment and Retainment Notification Act (WARN). The lawsuits are to represent all affected employees and seek damages equal to what the employees would have received if they worked an extra 60-day period.
The county is working to assist affected employees. The industry has held job fairs and reached out to employees directly. At least seven employees have been hired by the nearby Apex Homes, which hopes to hire up to 30.
Dealers have also been hit hard. Wyoming-based Chorba's Cabinet Shop has been an exclusive Wood-Mode dealer for 25 years. Now, it may have to close.
"I'll be 63 years old," owner Joe Chorba told the Daily Item in an interview. "Now I have a showroom that's worth nothing. To put that into perspective, they put me out of business. To start over at 63, I would need $100,000 to start again. I'm not about to go into that kind of debt."
Chorba said he lost three orders in the two days following the closure, which came unexpectedly for him too. Wood-Mode has dealers around the United States, Canada, and even South America.
"I have two large orders that are 90 percent complete in warehouse that were due to ship this week and next week," Lynn Colangelo of New York-based Classic Kitchen Cabinetry Inc. wrote to us in an email. "They have $16,000 from me representing a 50 percent deposit."
Another dealer, Lee Ann O’Daniel, owner of San Luis Kitchen Co. in San Luis Obispo, California, has written Gov. Wolf urging a focus on getting the plant reopened, PennLive reported. O-Daniel said her company may have to ditch an order that's worth $30,000 and that's 95 percent complete.
Bella IMC has offered to assist Wood-Mode dealers.
Wood-Mode was listed among the top 10 cabinet companies in the latest FDMC 300, a listing of the top North American wood products manufacturers. The company produced semi-custom and custom frameless and frame cabinetry, under the Wood-Mode and Brookhaven brands.
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