Sheryl Leavey owns a printing company in Merriam. In an effort to cut costs, she decided to outsource the bindery department. Seven women lost their jobs.
Leavey says the bindery workers resigned. Her former employees say they were pushed out to make way for a cheaper, more acquiescent work force.
In any case, Leavey has significantly lowered her costs. A Lenexa company called Performance Packaging Group now provides Leavey's Creative Printing with the work it needs. Speaking of her contact with Performance Packaging, Leavey says, "He can do the labor for $11 [an hour], and I was paying these girls a lot more than that."
Keeping a client happy was at the front of Leavey's mind when she made the decision to dispense with the "girls" — including one woman who had worked at Creative Printing for 33 years. Creative Printing's largest client is Hallmark Cards.
Leavey figured that she had two choices: lose the workers in one department or lose the business that her late husband, Frank, started in 1967. She chose to outsource. "I could be competitive with some of the other Hallmark suppliers that are getting labor a lot cheaper than I was paying," she tells me.
The decision to eliminate the bindery department was announced on March 12. Fifteen minutes before their shift ended, the women who worked in the department followed Leavey into the lunchroom.
Leavey explained that she had spoken with her accountant. The outlook was grim. Changes needed to be made.
Leavey said she was willing to keep one employee working full time and another working part time. She was unwilling to decide which two women would get the jobs, however. So, like a prison warden tossing a pool cue into a crowded cell, Leavey asked the bindery workers to choose.
"We had to vote, basically grade each person, because she felt too close to all of us to make the decision herself," says Judy Hansen, the employee with 33 years' experience.
Alice Zuniga, another longtime employee, says she could not bring herself to judge her co-workers and have the results determine who kept their jobs. "I refused to do it," she says.
Leavey went down the line. "Each one just told her no," Zuniga says.
Meeting that response, Leavey told the women to clean out their lockers, Zuniga says.
Whether the lunchroom meeting ended in a mass firing or a walkout is a point of dispute between Creative Printing, a nonunion shop, and the former employees.
"They resigned," Leavey says. "I gave them options to evaluate each other to keep two of them, and they refused to do it."
Zuniga says the word resigned never entered the conversation. Adds Hansen: "Not one of us ladies mentioned the word quit."
Hansen says Leavey offered two weeks of severance pay. It felt like a slap in the face, as did Leavey's level of gratitude. "She could not say thank you for all of the hard work," Hansen says. "That was the hardest."
Because Creative Printing frequently used other companies to help complete orders, Hansen and the others were replaced by women whom they had worked alongside. Performance Packaging was one of the companies that supplied additional help.
Hansen says workers at the bindery began to lose hours to the transient workers in fall 2008. Before then, Hansen and her co-workers regularly received overtime. Then they began to notice that the temps brought in by Performance Packaging were the ones putting in the 12-hour days.
The Performance Packaging crew was made up of women from Central and South America. Zuniga was able to communicate with them. Her father, who had emigrated from Mexico as a teenager, spoke Spanish around the house. "I understood everything they were saying," Zuniga says.