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2 former paper mill workers sue Southworth; say they are owed wages, pay for vacation, sick time

  • Southworth paper manufacturer closed its factory in Turners Falls along the power canal. August 30, 2017 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



For the Gazette
Sunday, September 24, 2017

TURNERS FALLS — Two former employees of Southworth paper company have filed suit against the company, claiming they did not receive legally required notice or wages owed them.

The two employees, Roger Matthews and Timothy Gignilliat, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Springfield on Monday, Sept. 18.

John Connor of Stobierski & Connor in Greenfield, who is representing the employees, is seeking compensation for Matthews and Gignilliat and any other employees from Southworth’s Turners Falls Paper plant in a similar situation. He said they don’t know how much they are seeking in damages until they can calculate the numbers for all of the employees. Of the two he’s representing, Connor said both are owed their final pay periods and accrued vacation and sick time.

About 60 people lost jobs when Southworth closed its plant and operations abruptly on Aug. 30. The lawsuit states that none of those employees have been paid the wages they are owed since that day.

Connor said the law office got several calls in the weeks after the paper mill closed, and waited to see if the company would act and pay their employees. When the company did not, the suit was filed. Beyond the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Massachusetts Wage Act, Connor said they are suing under the federal law that requires companies give 60 days notice before closing their plants.

Southworth CEO David Mika said on Wednesday that the company is working to ensure all workers will be paid for their time, though he is unsure of when that would happen.

Mika said that while he couldn’t discuss the lawsuit, he said the company intends to compensate workers for their time.

“It’s my responsibility to pay our employees,” he said on Wednesday.

Mika added that he is working with the company’s bank to get financing for the payments and the company’s additional expenses.

Besides the Southworth Co., the suit names the top officials at the company — John Leness, Mika, David Southworth and Chris Childs — as defendants.

Connor said that if the court rules in favor of their complaint, under the Massachusetts Wage Act, the employees are entitled to up to three times what they are owed.

“In our view, it’s a clear violation of both the federal and state wage acts,” he said.

Connor said that while it’s one thing for a company to go under, it’s another for its top management to not plan to ensure employees would receive what they are owed.

He said they chose to name those administrators and top officials in the suit because those officials who control a situation like this one can be held personally liable by the state wage law.

The firm brought the suit in federal court but asserted both federal and state claims in the filing.

Representatives from Southworth, a company that traces its lineage back to 1839, were unable to be reached on Monday afternoon. Southworth bought the Esleeck Paper Co. and the mill in Turners Falls in 2006. Esleeck had opened its mill in 1900.

In 2012, Southworth announced that it would sell one of its brands to another paper producer, Neenah Paper Inc., but kept its Turners Falls mill running. The company also had offices and a plant in Agawam, which was closed as well.