By Shereen Siewert

State officials are suing a Merrill window manufacturer that closed its doors in December 2019 for $682,864 in unpaid wages, in a complaint that accuses the company of violating Wisconsin’s Business Closing and Mass Layoff Law.

A total of 140 employees lost their jobs when Semling-Menke Co., 605 N. Ohio St., announced the immediate closure in a Dec. 30, 2019 letter and all employees were terminated one day later. In February 2020, a former worker at the plant filed a complaint against the company claiming the company broke state law by not providing state-mandated notice to employees about the closure.

On Monday, Attorney General Josh Kaul and Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek announced a complaint against SEMCO. A DWD investigation concluded that the employees were due wages totaling $682,864.90. The legal action seeks to recover wages by enforcing a lien against all property owned by the company.

Typically, companies are required by employers with 100 or more employees to provide at least 60 calendar days advance written notice of a plant closing or mass layoff affecting 50 or more employees at a single site of employment.

State officials say a mandated Worker Adjustment and Retraining notice (WARN) from Semling-Menke was sent on Dec. 30, one day before the company closed its doors, and was received on Jan. 2. Advance notice gives workers and their families some transition time to adjust to the prospective loss of employment, to seek and obtain other jobs, and if necessary, to enter skill training or retraining that will allow these workers to compete successfully in the job market.

In his letter, company president Patrick Semling cited the company’s inability to obtain financing, a lack of orders, insufficient cash and the inability to sell the company as factors in the closure.

“The company has been pursuing additional financing to stay operating in Merrill but has been unsuccessful and was unable to provide any notice until now,” Semling wrote.

Kaul said the Wisconsin Department of Justice is protecting working families by enforcing labor laws.

“This case alleges that 140 people didn’t receive the required 60 days’ notice when SEMCO abruptly closed, and Wisconsin DOJ is working to get justice for these Wisconsinites,” Kaul said.

“DWD recognizes the significant burden placed on workers and their families when an employer fails to give employees proper notice of a business closing,” Pechacek said. “DWD believes in enforcing the law and is pleased to move forward in holding SEMCO accountable to its workers.”