Shipyard behind on pay advertises for new workers

September 18, 1990|By John H. Gormley Jr.

First Marine Manufacturing Inc., operator of the shipyard adjacent to Fort McHenry that filed for protection from creditors in July, has been running want ads for new employees even though the company owes back wages to its current workers.

Last week, First Marine ran classified help-wanted ads in Th Sun and The Evening Sun that read, "Electricians & outside machinists -- pay above local rate."

A current employee of First Marine at the yard confirme yesterday that he and his fellow workers were still owed back wages. In his case, it was for two weeks and amounted to about $1,000, he said.

Told of the ads for new workers, the employee said, "That don't seem right, that's for sure."

He expressed faith that Dannie B. Hudson, the owner of First Marine, eventually will make good on the back wages. "He's never done me wrong. I have no reason to doubt him. We've been in this predicament before, and he's always paid me," said the man, who did not want his name used.

One of the first indications workers had of First Marine's financial difficulties came when they tried to cash their paychecks. In a number of instances they bounced.

One former worker said his paycheck bounced in early June. The same thing happened repeatedly, said the worker, who quit First Marine Aug. 21. He said the company subsequently made good on all of the money owed him.

Gilbert Gomez, former yard superintendent at First Marine, said he didn't fare as well. "I just got fed up with it," said Mr. Gomez, who quit in frustration a week ago over the late wages. He put the amount owed to him at about $1,800.

Mr. Gomez questioned how Mr. Hudson will be able to pay an new workers First Marine might hire, since "he cannot afford the wages he owes."

George Ashley, another former supervisor, quit Friday. He sai he was owed about $800 after taxes.

Mr. Ashley, too, criticized the hiring of more workers when the company owes money to current and past employees. "I think it's bad. It's downright dirty," he said. "He's using these people to do what he needs to get done."

First Marine, a company from Norfolk, Va., that opened the Fort McHenry yard in January, filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

Usually under such circumstances, a company has 120 days to come up with a recovery plan for submission to the bankruptcy court. In the meantime, it continues to operate under a debtor-in-possession order. Such orders set out a number of rules that the company must observe, one of which specifies that the company must avoid incurring expenses that cannot possibly be paid.

A. Grey Staples, an assistant U.S. trustee whose office is responsible for supervising First Marine's operations while it is under the jurisdiction of the bankruptcy court, said yesterday that hiring employees before paying off back wages was not necessarily a violation of the debtor-in-possession order.

In bankruptcy cases, back wages must be paid before th claims of creditors are settled.

First Marine declined to comment on its ads for more workers. Calls to the company's lawyer in the bankruptcy proceedings, Mark S. Devan, were not returned.

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