PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday July 22nd, 2014, 4:20pm

Laid Off Illinois Workers Say Defunct Magazine Distributor Violated Labor Laws (VIDEO)

Former Illinois employees of a now shuttered magazine distribution business, who were abruptly laid off in May, are demanding that the company pay them 60 days of wages as required by state and federal labor laws. Progress Illinois has more on the wage theft allegations.

Former Illinois employees of a now shuttered magazine distribution business urged the company on Tuesday to abide by state and federal labor laws and pay them for their abrupt job loss.

U.S. magazine wholesaler Source Interlink Distribution announced in late May that it was shutting down its operations — putting 6,000 of its employees out of work nationwide, including more than 200 workers in Illinois. That decision came after Time Inc., one of Source Interlink Distribution's largest clients, ended its business with the company. On June 23, Source Interlink Distribution's parent company Source Home Entertainment LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. A meeting of creditors was held earlier this morning in Delaware, where the company filed for bankruptcy. 

"Today creditors are meeting in Delaware to claim how much money Interlink owes them," said Jorge Mujica, strategic campaigns organizer for the workers' rights group Arise Chicago, a supporter of the Illinois employees. "Today, we are asking the same thing right here in Chicago. We are stating how much Interlink owes these workers. Sixty days of wages would be roughly a quarter million dollars."

In Illinois, Source Interlink Distribution's facility in McCook closed abruptly on May 30, leaving about 250 employees jobless, former workers from the facility said at the Chicago protest Tuesday morning. The former workers and their allies at Arise Chicago maintain that the company failed to give the employees notice about the layoffs 60 days before closing the facility, which is a requirement for employers in certain situations under the federal and Illinois Workers Adjustment and Retraining (WARN) Act.

Under Illinois law, businesses with 75 or more full-time employees have to give workers, state and local government officials at least a 60 day advance notice of a possible mass layoff or plant closing. According to the Illinois Department of Labor's website, "an employer that fails to provide notice as required by law is liable to each affected employee for back pay and benefits for the period of the violation, up to a maximum of 60 days."

The workers claim they are due 60 days worth of wages as a result of alleged WARN Act violations by the company. 

Source Interlink Distribution was hit last month with a class action lawsuit filed by former Source Interlink Distribution employees in U.S. District Court in Fort Myers, Florida due to alleged WARN Act violations. The lawsuit, which still needs its class-action status approved by a federal judge, seeks to cover all 6,000 former Source Interlink Distribution employees, including those in Illinois, said Arise Chicago organizers.

Casaundra Ramsey, who worked at the McCook Source Interlink Distribution facility for six years, said when she arrived at work on May 30, the doors were locked and the office was closed.

"We had not been warned or given any notice," she said. "I reported to work looking for my job, and once I was there, I was like, 'What is this? They locked us out' ... I wasn't warned. I didn't know any thing about losing my job."

Today's protest with about 30 former McCook Source Interlink Distribution employees and supporters was held outside of what they thought was the Chicago office of Source Interlink Media, a company separate from Source Interlink Distribution and the publishing arm of Source Interlink Companies, Inc. Source Interlink Media has recently been re-branded as TEN:The Enthusiast Network.

When members of the group went inside the building, 500 N. Dearborn St., a building manager as well as maintenance crew said Source Interlink Media had moved out about a year ago. The company's name, however, was still listed on the building's directory this morning. A representative from TEN could not immediately be reached for comment.

Here's more from Ramsey and scenes from the protest:

Jose Landaverde, who worked for 20 years at the McCook facility in the magazine receiving department, said he was notified of the layoffs the morning the facility was closed.

"My department was told the very last day there would be no more jobs, but the other departments, they were not told until they got there and found out that the doors were locked," he said.

Mujica said company officials provided a letter to the workers on May 30 explaining that the business had been struggling with financial troubles for the past five months.

"They were preparing to shut down," Mujica said. "We know they were preparing. They were getting ready, but they didn't have the decency to tell the workers, 'Guys, you're going to lose your jobs' ... They could have told the workers 60 days ago."

The June report for the Illinois WARN Act, meanwhile, shows that Source Interlink Distribution notified the state last month about its permanent "mass layoff" event that occurred at the McCook facility, at 9450 Serge Dr., on May 30 to June 1. The company, which said 244 employees were impacted by the layoffs, cited a "lost contract" as the reason for the job cuts. Stephen Dube, Source Home Entertainment's chief restructuring officer and the person listed in the state WARN report as Source Interlink Distribution's contact could not immediately be reached for comment. 

A "mass layoff" covered under the state's 60 day WARN notice requirement occurs when "25 or more full-time employees are laid off if they constitute one-third or more of the full-time employees at the site, or 250 or more full-time employees." 

Mujica and former employees said more than 244 full-time workers were affected by the McCook facility closing. They also maintain that the mass layoff on May 30 triggered the 60 day notification requirement under Illinois' WARN Act.

"We're talking about close to 300 employees at the facility, without including the management," said former worker Landaverde.

"I'm looking for a job right now," he said. "It's kind of hard ... to find a job that pays about the same money. It's very difficult. You have to pay bills and you have responsibilities, and it's a big problem for all of us."

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