Failed firetruck-maker American LaFrance is being sued by former workers who say the company violated a federal labor act by not providing proper notice about last month's abrupt shutdown.
U.S. safety regulators are investigating a complaint that a wheel fell off one of American LaFrance's vehicles late last year. The probe covers about 100 Eagle model ladder trucks from the 2008 model year.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says investigators will determine if the front suspension is defective and a recall is needed. They'll also look at other vehicles with the same design.
On Dec. 2, a fire department complained that the passenger side front spindle snapped and the wheel fell off. The complaint said the driver lost control of the truck. It says the problem could have resulted in injury or death if the truck had been responding to an alarm. The complaint didn't identify the department.
Two Ladson residents filed the complaint in federal court in Charleston.
Olivia Schreiner and James Schreiner worked for American LaFrance for 10 years before the manufacturer terminated all of its employees and closed its doors in Moncks Corner and two other locations on Jan, 17.
The lawsuit cites the Labor Department's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires most companies with 100 or more employees to provide written notice at least 60 calendar days before a factory shutdown or mass layoffs.
Attorneys for the Schreiners said the exemptions to the law don't apply in this case.
American LaFrance had about 500 employees at its plants in South Carolina, Pennsylvania and California, according to the lawsuit. They were paid only for " 'actual time worked' up until the date of termination," the Schreiners say in their complaint.
The lawsuit seeks continuation of health care coverage, pay for unused vacation and sick days, and other forms of compensation for 60 days after the termination date.
The Schreiners also are asking for class-action status, which would enable their former co-workers to join the case.
The lawsuit also names as a defendant Patriarch Partners LLC, American LaFrance's owner. A spokesman for the New York-based investment firm did not respond to an email Monday seeking comment. The companies haven't filed a formal response with the court.
Patriarch said in a statement last month that it had to shut down American LaFrance's factories. It said the firetruck-maker's "unexpected current financial condition requires the discontinuation of operations in these locations at this time, and these facilities are not expected to reopen."
Berkeley County is pursuing more than $620,000 in tax-related fees it's owed by American LaFrance. The company has until Feb. 13 to pay off the debt, said Berkeley County Supervisor Dan Davis. If it doesn't, American LaFrance's equipment and other property can be seized and sold at auction in early March, he said Monday.
Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.
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