UPDATED 01/11/12 6:06 a.m.
LINCOLNWOOD, Ill. (CBS) — More than 100 people who worked at Rolf’s Patisserie are suing the owners of the Lincolnwood bakery following its abrupt closure last month.
Industry watchers said it appears that a food poisoning incident last year likely mortally wounded the bakery, forcing its closure.
Officials for Rolf’s were not talking Tuesday, but as WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, the workers say they learned on the Rolf’s website of the abrupt closure of the commercial bakery.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
On Dec. 10, they say, they were told the plant would close for cleaning. The following day, according to office manager Karen Leyva, the Web site announced that Rolf’s had gone out of business.
“With deep regret Rolf’s Patisserie, Inc. announces the closing of its business in Lincolnwood, IL, effective immediately,” the notice on the website says. “Due to sharply higher operating costs, the cost of financing an expansion project and the inability to operationally meet the seasonal demands of our customers, we have made this difficult decision. We thank you for your patronage and we apologize for any inconvenience.”
But Leyva and other employees were furious.
“It was a Christmas we’re never going to forget. No money for food, for rent, gifts for our kids,” she said.
The workers’ final paychecks bounced. CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports a total of 130 workers were affected.
The workers are now being supported by ARISE Chicago, an interfaith group that focus on worker issues.
“As a part of the 99 percent, these workers know they have been cheated,” said the Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director of ARISE Chicago.
The workers’ attorney, Thomas Geoghegan, says company owners Lloyd Culbertson did send them letters. But they came a little late, he said.
“On January 4, there was a letter sent out advising him that on December 11 of 2011, the plant had closed,” Geoghegan said.
The workers have also filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, demanding pay for their final 10 days of work and 60 days severance. The severance is owed, they say, because they weren’t given two months’ notice as required by law.
Geoghegan said just posting a notice on the comapny Web site was not acceptable.
“That is not the kind of notice that the people who live from paycheck to paycheck, as the employees at Rolf’s did, have a right to receive,” he said.
A “sorry, we’re closed” sign hung on the front door of the Rolf’s plant on Tuesday afternoon, with the word “forever” written by hand underneath on a piece of tape. When no one answered after repeated knocks, the workers left a copy of the lawsuit in front of the door.
Millions of dollars are at stake, but it’s not clear where they money will come from. But employees have little sympathy, in light of their abrupt mass-firing.
“It’s more than a slap in the face. It’s more like a stabbing,” said customer service representative Deyanira Alvarez. “This place was our home.”
Rolf’s sold under its own name, and also supplied a number of supermarket chains with such products as cakes, cobblers, decorated cookies, tarts, pastries, pies and tiramisu. Its plant was located at 4343 W. Touhy Ave. in Lincolnwood.
Just over a year ago, Rolf’s was shut down by regulatory agencies after at least 100 people got sick from eating desserts from the bakery at restaurants or parties. Rolf’s voluntarily recalled all its products made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, 2010, following the discovery of Staphylococcus aureus contamination.