Premium Protein Products, the packer that has furloughed hundreds of its employees for months from jobs in Lincoln and Hastings as it sought a buyer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In June, Premium Protein furloughed its 250 hourly workers at a Hastings slaughterhouse and 60 employees at a processing plant at 4611 W. Adams St.
Since then, every two weeks the company had left a message on its phone system extending the furloughs for another two weeks.
At the time of the first furlough, Chairman Steve Sands blamed weak beef demand and export markets. Sands resigned in July. His family founded the company as Standard Meat in 1901.
In recent years, the company had grown to become one of the largest processors of organic and natural beef in the country.
Sands said in June the decision to furlough workers was made by the company’s majority shareholder, Matlin Patterson Global Advisers, a private equity firm in New York that invested in the company in 2007.
Matlin Patterson specializes in investments in distressed companies. Local managers and the equity fund’s management have not responded to requests for comments since the first furlough. They did not respond Wednesday.
Some beef industry analysts doubted the company would reopen operating as it did at the high end of the market, providing buyers documentation of its beef back to the pasture.
For months, hundreds of employees, many of them Hispanic immigrants, were left hanging. Hastings took another employment blow in July, when another meatpacker, Armour-Eckrich, closed its doors, idling almost 400 more people.
Some former managers and other employees who asked for anonymity had told the Journal Star previously that Matlin Patterson was trying to sell the company but had been unable to get an offer for the price it was asking, $18 million.
Those people also said at the time that the furloughs would continue, as they did.
The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires companies of a certain size to give employees 60 days of paid notice of a mass layoff or closing.
That law allows exemptions in some circumstances, including corporate financial distress or when a company is seeking capital.
The law also leaves to employees the responsibility for filing a federal court action to get enforcement of the act, if the company doesn’t do so voluntarily.
No estimate of assets and liabilities accompanied the bankruptcy filing, and Robert V. Ginn, Premium Protein’s bankruptcy attorney in Omaha, did not return a phone call.
The company asked the bankruptcy court in its filing to be allowed to limit its notices to a creditors’ committee rather than all interested parties.
“Debtor has nearly 1,000 secured, priority and unsecured creditors,” the document said. The costs of informing all of them will be an expense too burdensome to the company to bear “in its current financial condition,” the request said.
A first meeting of creditors is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Dec. 11 at the Bankruptcy Court’s meeting room in Lincoln. Proofs of claims are due at the court by March 11.
A list of the 20 biggest unsecured creditors includes Belle Camp Associates of Fort Collins, Colo., a mergers and acquisitions advisory company, owed $132,000; AON Risk Services, Omaha, $134,418; Flat Iron Feeders of Holdrege, $77,102.44; the Adams County Treasurer, $77,280.18; Madison Food Group, New York, $3.8 million; Pegler Sysco Food Services, Lincoln, $77,674.11; Romans Motor Freight, Omaha, $126,666.43; T&P Testing Service, Hastings, $72,744.77; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Marketing Service, Livestock Program, $55,279.84.
Reach Richard Piersol at 473-7241 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.