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Anger at Jevic mounting

Ex-employees sue over the abruptness of the shutdown.

The news that his employer would no longer help pay for his chemotherapy arrived at Sam Vaughn's home by FedEx on Monday.

In a letter, Jevic Transportation Inc. thanked the 62-year-old, who has bladder cancer, for his service. It apologized. It said that his job of 15 years was gone.

That, effective at midnight that night, Vaughn's health insurance would be gone.

That the 27-year-old trucking business was, suddenly, gone.

Jevic's announcement Monday that it was shutting down has thrown the lives of its more than 1,000 employees into disarray.

Workers, many of whom have been with the Delanco company for decades, are scrambling for health care, wondering how to meet their mortgage and car payments, and flooding government and legal offices with phone calls.

"I haven't seen something like this in the county in quite awhile," Aubrey Fenton, Burlington County's freeholder director, said yesterday.

"Actually, I've never seen it," Fenton said. "It really is a new challenge to deal with."

Two employees have filed a lawsuit against Jevic in Delaware U.S. bankruptcy court, accusing the company of violating the federal Warn Act. Jevic is owned by a private firm in Florida that is not closing.

The act mandates, among other things, that companies of Jevic's size must provide 60 days' notice to employees and the government if a plant closing will cause more than 50 people to lose their jobs in a 30-day period.

The employees' attorney, Jack Raisner, said yesterday that he is seeking class-action status that would cover all employees laid off this week, including those in other states.

Raisner said he would soon amend the suit to include allegations that Jevic violated a recently passed state law, known informally as the New Jersey Warn Act. The state law also requires 60 days' notice, but does not allow for exemptions permitted in the federal act for a "faltering" company or one that has been a victim of an unforeseen business circumstance.

Jevic, which said it was forced to close by soaring diesel-fuel prices and a tough credit market, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Tuesday. The suit would seek to give laid-off employees severance granted under state and federal laws and to give workers' entitlements a higher priority as creditors' claims are sorted out.

County officials, working in conjunction with State Sen. Diane B. Allen (R., Burlington), are preparing an information session for the laid-off workers on Tuesday. Fenton said he and others are trying to reach someone at Jevic who can give them a list of former employees so they can contact people to offer help.

Burlington County Community College said this week that it would offer free tuition to help retrain displaced workers who are county residents.

"Everybody is helping each other out. Seeing the community coming forth and helping everyone at Jevic is really heartwarming," Jevic spokesman Pete Robinson said last night.

Employees are applying in droves for unemployment benefits. Some are successfully pursuing other trucking jobs.

Thomas Turner, 62, of West Deptford Township, said he had already completed the physical examination to work at Cowan Systems, a Baltimore trucking company. He said the pay will not be as high as the roughly $70,000 he earned driving a truck for Jevic.

"Twenty-one years you're in a place. You don't know where to turn, where to go," he said, his voice faltering. "Then they throw everything on you."

Turner said his chief concern was finding health insurance because companies typically don't offer new employees coverage right away.

"That's the most distressing part of the entire situation - the health care and how there's a potential to be a lapse," Fenton said.

County officials are searching for a solution, he said, possibly through government programs.

Robinson said that employees will receive their final paychecks and accrued vacation pay over the next six weeks.

County officials have organized a job fair on June 20 at which various trucking companies will be present.

Vaughn, who lives with his wife, Libby, in Bordentown Township, failed the required physical at Cowan this week. In addition to bladder cancer, he has vascular disease, stents in his heart, and leukemia. He is also developing a cataract, which he had planned to have corrected under the company's generous insurance plan.

Vaughn received the news about Jevic's closing when his wife called while he was out making a delivery in Wall Township.

"I said, 'Sam, you lost your job. We lost our benefits, everything,' " Libby said.

Vaughn made every delivery that day. Punched out at 3:30 p.m. Came home, hugged his wife, said he was sorry.