Company picks workers pockets

CANTON, OHIO — Can a company make deductions from its employees’ paychecks for health care, child support and payments to a credit union, and then pocket the money?

That’s what steelworkers at the closed Stark Ceramics here charge their employer did, and they are gearing up for a fight.

Russell Rine found out the company had not forwarded his deducted child support when police informed him his driver’s license had been suspended for failure to make his monthly payments.

Junia Davis had brain surgery in January but was informed by her insurance company in March that it was seeking to recover the payments it made to her doctors and hospital because it had not received the premiums the company took from her since last December.

Since the middle of March, George Korocedes has gotten bills for several thousand dollars for medical expenses that should have been covered by the premiums the company deducted but never sent the insurance company. The company admitted it should not have done that and reimbursed Korocedes for the premiums, but he is stuck with the bills.

Other workers meeting at a local restaurant recently charged that the company had failed to transfer funds allocated for the credit union and held up payments to pensions and 401(k) funds. On several occasions last fall, they said, it delayed paychecks or told workers not to cash them because the payroll account lacked sufficient funds.

During this time the workers were forced to work 12-hour days and produced a huge inventory of ceramic tiles worth $9 million, said Steve Reed, president of USWA Local 3610. The company had filed for bankruptcy last summer.

On Dec. 31, it laid off 48 of the plant’s 54 workers. The remaining workers helped the company sell off the inventory. Then, on March 2, First Merit Bank foreclosed, seized the property and told the workers to go home.

The stunned workers have joined SOAR, the Steelworkers’ retiree group, which has arranged for them to present their concerns to public officials and plans to ask the Stark County prosecutor to file criminal charges. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office has set up a meeting between the workers and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the federal agency in charge of administering pensions of companies that declare bankruptcy.