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Laid-Off Workers Block Canadian Plant’s Main Gate

Employees laid off from Federal Gypsum blocked the gate for 4 hours before extracting promises from the company and a creditor that they hope will prevent the need for further blockades.

POINT TUPPER, Nova Scotia -- Laid-off employees at the Federal Gypsum Co. wallboard plant blocked the gate for four hours Wednesday before extracting promises from the company and a creditor that they hope will prevent the need for further blockades.

"What have we got to lose anymore?" said Claude Marchand of Petit de Grat, a former quality manager with the wallboard manufacturer.

"We're kind of in a hard spot here. In hindsight, maybe we should have done this before, but we were hoping some government agency or somebody would get this resolved."

In June, Federal Gypsum announced a plant shutdown for at least a month due to the high cost of fuel and a downturn in the market for wallboard.

About 55 employees have been laid off and are owed about five weeks of back pay, said Eric Day of Louisdale, the plant's former production supervisor.

He said 30 laid-off employees blocked the entrance to the plant at 7 a.m. and promised to leave after a 10 a.m. meeting with company CEO Rhyne Simpson Jr.

The meeting ended at 11 a.m. and the employees took down the blockade without incident.

Day said Simpson agreed to arrange a conference call with Century Services, a creditor that bills itself as a specialty lender and asset recovery expert that has sold the existing inventory to cover its costs.

He said a Century representative promised to come out to the Point Tupper plant next week to meet with former employees and talk about the possibility of providing some back pay to help out while the former employees await EI claims.

Day also said Simpson promised to have his lawyer draft a letter ensuring that any money left over from Century's sale of inventory would go directly to employees.

In the meantime, a limited number of trucks will be allowed to leave the plant with inventory.

Simpson and his son Michael, the company's executive vice-president, did not return phone calls.

Day and Marchand said the former workers aren't unionized and are determined to get something out of the company and its creditor or the blockade will go back up next Wednesday.

The former employees say their only bargaining chip left is to make it impossible for anyone to move product out of the plant.

"We haven't been paid since the end of May and we're still waiting for EI," said Day. "We can't afford to put food on the table."

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