Former SEMCO employees get “what they are owed”
Attorney General announces SEMCO agrees to pay $650,000+
TINA L. SCOTT
When Merrill-based Semling-Menke Company, Inc. (SEMCO) shut down operations on December 31, 2019, without giving employees the required 60 days notice prior to ceasing business operations, employees were caught off guard and stunned. They were also left without time to prepare for their sudden loss of income. Those employees filed for unemployment, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) stepped in to help, and, according to Luke Kramer, the Business Representative for North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters (NCSRCC), all those who wanted a new job, did ultimately find employment elsewhere. Some also opted to retire, he said.
Still, what happened was a huge blow to employees. “SEMCO was around since 1940,” Kramer said. For many employees, “it wasn’t just leaving a job, it was leaving a family.” As a result, many employees sought new jobs at other companies along with their cowokers. “A lot of them wanted to go with the people they used to work with,” he said.
“When an employer fails to give employees proper notice of a business closing, the negative impact of the lost jobs is compounded by the effects on families and communities,” said DWD Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek.
Employees were owed what they would have earned had they received the required 60 days’ notice and worked for that duration, because that is the law in Wisconsin, and the DWD went to work on behalf of displaced employees. The law requiring adequate notice is designed to protect residents, and a community, from just this kind of sudden and unexpected loss of income and jobs, a potentially devastating blow that could have been cushioned with that 60 days notice.
SEMCO agrees to pay
On Thursday, Aug. 19, Attorney General (AG) Josh Kaul held a press conference outside the Lincoln County Courthouse to announce a settlement had been reached with SEMCO, requiring the company to pay more than $650,000 to eligible employees to remedy those employees’ losses.
He said checks to more than 130 eligible employees had already been mailed out the week before, each check totaling “thousands of dollars.” Check amounts to each employee will vary, and those amounts were calculated according to “average hours that were worked by employees prior to the company closing down” and their rate of pay, for that 60-day timeframe, using a calculation from the DWD and resulting in a total payout of more than $650,000. This is “the full amount that DWD believes is owed to former SEMCO employees,” AG Kaul said.
If anyone who worked for SEMCO at the time of the closing has not received a check they were expecting to receive, they should contact the DWD, he added.
“The money is being paid by SEMCO,” AG Kaul said. “They were able to raise some additional resources to help make this payment happen, so they will be providing the money to employees. It’s not coming from Wisconsin taxpayers; it’s coming from SEMCO.”
“DWD welcomes this settlement on behalf of the SEMCO employees,” Pechacek said, “and will continue its work through the Job Center of Wisconsin and community partnerships to connect the affected workers with new opportunities.”
During the 90 days following when the checks were mailed, SEMCO is required to attempt re-delivery of any returned check. At the end of the 90 days, Semco will give an accounting of completed payments to DWD.
The legal process
The process to get workers their 60 days’ pay first began with the DWD, but when they weren’t able to get the desired results after a year of trying, the matter was referred to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ).
Earlier this year, the DOJ filed a lawsuit against SEMCO, seeking financial relief for former employees.
“Resolving a case within a little over half a year for the legal process is pretty quick, even if it’s not in most other areas of life,” AG Kaul said. “And getting this kind of result – the full amount that DWD believes is owed, paid – that’s an exceptional result, and it’s because of the work that was done by the DWD and our office and also because SEMCO stepped up and agreed to make this payment.”
Historically, other cases such as this, especially if the closing company were to go into bankruptcy, have taken much longer than this to resolve, he added.
“With this resolution, substantial payments are being made to workers who lost their jobs when the business closed,” said Attorney General Kaul. “Thank you to those at DOJ and DWD whose work led to this excellent result for more than 130 Wisconsinites.”
Celebrating a win for blue collar workers
“What happened a year and eight months ago was very tragic and affected a lot of people here in the Merrill and Lincoln County area,” Representative Kramer of the NCSRCC said at the press conference. “But we’re here today to celebrate a win for the blue collar workers here in the state of Wisconsin.”
“We’d like to thank the DOJ and Attorney Josh Kaul for all they did for the workers and for their families,” he added. “The employees didn’t get what they deserved, they got what they were owed, and that’s the beautiful thing about living in this state and for the laws that we have.”