Kissel calls for state review of Hallmark’s layoff benefit stance (Journal Inquirer)

August 20, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Journal Inquirer

Kissel calls for state review of Hallmark’s layoff benefit stance
By Howard French

Journal Inquirer
Posted: Thursday, August 20, 2015

ENFIELD — Sen. John A. Kissel on Wednesday asked the state Labor Department to review Hallmark Cards Inc.’s decision to take the cost of extended health-care benefits out of the severance pay for workers at its plant here when it closes in 2016.

Connecticut law mandates continued health insurance benefits in the event of a plant closing, but federal law does not, Hallmark officials have said, adding they believe the federal law prevails.

Hallmark officials said Monday those of the 570 Enfield workers who want four months of extended health benefits will have the cost deducted from their severance pay. The company is offering two weeks’ pay for each year of employment, up to a maximum of 52 weeks, In his letter to state Labor Department Commissioner Sharon Palmer, Kissel, R-Enfield, requested clarification on the insurance issue.

“Hallmark employees are worried about their careers and their families’ futures,” he said. “This is a very unstable time for them with a lot of unknowns.

“People need to be able to plan ahead for any and all scenarios, and we need to help them prepare,” he said.

Many Hallmark workers have expressed concerns about insurance coverage, he said.
Nancy Steffens, a spokeswoman for the Labor Department, today said Palmer will review Kissel’s request and provide an answer as soon as possible.

A company official could not be reached for comment early today.

Hallmark, based in Missouri, announced July 7 that it plans to shut its Enfield distribution center next year and centralize operations at its Liberty, Missouri, warehouse.

The Enfield distribution center, at 25 Bacon Road, encompassed two buildings and employed 800 workers as recently as 2007. The company closed the distribution center at 35 Manning Road that year and moved the 350 workers there to the Bacon Road operation. The number of workers has been declining ever since.

Hallmark opened its first distribution center in Enfield in 1952.