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Jevic workers try to pick up the pieces Bitter employees abruptly left high and dry without pay, benefits

The Times of Trenton (NJ) - Jeff Trently
Published: June 23, 2008

It's Monday. You go into work at 9 a.m. Your bosses call you and your co-workers into a meeting an hour later. The company's not doing well, they tell you. It's going to declare bankruptcy. You have two hours to clear your desk and get out, they say. You have no more job. You have no more health insurance.

Security guards escort you back to your desk, where you and your co- workers pack up belongings. Within two hours you are in the parking lot, with no job, no insurance - and no idea how you got here. This is the case for more than 1,000 employees of the Delanco-based Jevic Transportation, which did just that to its drivers, mechanics and office workers May 19. Some were told they had no job when they showed up for work that day. Some got FedEx notices in the mail while they were out on the road.

Truckers making deliveries throughout 48 states that day found their fuel cards cut off - they had to pay out of their own pocket for diesel fuel to get home.

* * *

Four weeks and two lawsuits later, the shock and sense of betrayal remains for the 1,200 former workers at Jevic. Federal and state laws require companies with at least 100 employees to notify workers 60 days before layoffs or closings.

* * *

The outlook for jobless truckers could be as dark as the color of oil, he said.

* * *

Jevic was one of Burlington County's top 20 employers, county spokesman Dave Wyche said. County and state officials held a workshop for former Jevic workers in May and Burlington County College is offering tuition-free classes for workers to get retraining.

* * *

Attorney Jack Raisner is representing several hundred employees in a lawsuit filed in May accusing Jevic of violating federal and state laws by not giving workers 60 days notice of the shutdown.

Raisner said many truckers were on the road when their fuel cards were cut off and they had to pay their own way back to the state.

"That's graphic in terms of being stranded," he said.

Sam Vaughn is one of those stranded truckers.

He was on the road May 19 when his wife called and read from the FedEx that said his $68,000-a-year job was no more.

"It completely turned our lives upside-down," he said.

Vaughn, 63, who has bladder cancer, vascular disease, stents in his heart as well as leukemia, was left with no job - and no health insurance - in the span of a phone call.

"Am I angry?" he asked from his Bordentown home. "Yes. Very much so. For not doing more for their people. Just to come up and - boom! - drop everyone all at once. It hurts."

Vaughn spent 15 years driving trucks for Jevic.

"It makes you feel pretty bad," he said. "I don't know what's gonna happen when I go look for a job."

For Vaughn, who spends $600 a month on prescriptions, the biggest concern is the loss of health insurance.

His wife, Libby, a receptionist at Arena Gymnasium in Princeton, had to buy coverage for her husband from her own paycheck at work.

"We had two weeks of medicine for him," she said. "We had to scramble for more."

Libby Vaughn cried when she read the letter saying her husband was out of work.

"I shook. I was shaking. Then I had to make a phone call to my husband and tell him. I was numb," she said.

Numbness was what Michelle Green felt when she showed up for work May 19 and found out that was her last day - and the last day of 1,200 co- workers.

Green, of Willingboro, worked 10 years in Jevic's collections department.

It was a good job, she said. A family atmosphere.

Yet it all ended so coldly.

"They had security out there. We were told to pack our stuff up and within two hours were out of there," she said. "We were shocked. We didn't know this was going to happen."

Green's health care benefits were discontinued the same day.

Her 17-year-old daughter suffers from viral meningitis and has been in and out of the hospital since September. Her medical bills stand at $75,000.

"It was heartbreaking, like a slap in the face," Green said of the dismissal.

"It's still a heartache. I still get up each morning as if I'm going to work. My body is used to that," she said.

When employees were let go from the company in the past, they received 60 days severance pay and medical benefits, she said.

"Us, we didn't get anything," she said. "Security's there. Everybody's looking at us. Everybody's crying. It was extremely sad."

Workers hugged each other and helped each other pack their belongings, Green said.

Then they stood in the parking lot, not wanting to let go.

"Everyone was in shock, like numbness," she said. "It's just like a death. You have a routine and it's done."

Green plans to study to become an ultrasound technician in September in a tuition-free program for former Jevic workers at Burlington County College.

"I don't let this get me down," she said. "It's a job. It's the family I miss, my co-workers."

Jevic was a wonderful company, she said.

"It was the most rewarding and best job I had because of the people I worked with," she said. "It was like a family business until this happened. I doubt if I'll ever find another job like that."

Green always had a Jevic cap in the back of her car.

"I was proud," she said.

She had a Jevic jacket she would wear on cold days.

"I'd put it on," she said. "I don't put it on anymore."

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