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Gordy's announces over 1,000 layoffs unless it finds buyer

Troubled grocer Gordy’s Market, which has stores from Rice Lake to La Crosse, announced Wednesday it will be laying off 1,008 workers by Oct. 28, unless it can find suitable buyer or buyers for Gordy’s stores.

“Please be aware that business circumstances may change and that all employees may not be permanently laid off if the Gordy’s entities are purchased and remain operational. It is impossible for us to determine at present which employees may be affected, if any,” said a letter sent to employees dated Tuesday by Michael S. Polsky.

Polsky was appointed last week as a receiver for Gordy’s, in charge of a financial restructuring of the company.

He continued: “If the Gordy’s entities are ultimately closed, or if the buyers do not hire any of the Gordy’s employees, we expect it to result in the permanent elimination of all 1,008 employees. This includes both union and non-union employees.”

“We regret having to make the decision; however business and industry circumstances leave us no alternative,” he wrote.

The layoff notice was disclosed by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development. The layoff, if it takes place, will dwarf any other in the state in 2017. The largest previously announced layoff was made in April, when Gander Mountain announced it would lay off 371 workers.

According to the notice, the layoffs would be in the cities of Arcadia, Augusta, Barron, Black River Falls, Chetek, Chippewa Falls, Cornell, Eau Claire, Galesville, Hayward, La Crosse, Ladysmith, Neillsville, Rice Lake, Richland Center, Shell Lake, Spencer, Stanley, Tomah and Whitehall.

Some of the layoffs have already occurred. Gordy’s closed its southside Chippewa Falls location along with its Stanley facility and several other locations, including Hayward and Tomah. It is selling two stores in Eau Claire to Festival Foods and is closing a third location on East Hamilton Avenue.

Last week the grocer was sued in Chippewa County Court by its Michigan-based supplier, Nash Finch, which says it is owed $86 million by Gordy’s.

Gordy’s home office at its Lake Wissota location in Chippewa Falls had no comment about the notice from Polsky.

Small-town grocers Hansen’s IGA, which has a store in Stanley, and Randy’s Neighborhood Market may be looking to fill the gap left by cash-strapped Gordy’s Market.

Public notices indicate Heather Heineman, general manager for Gordy’s Galesville location, filed for a liquor license on behalf of Arcadia Food Bank Inc. and Galesville Food Bank Inc. both for the purposes of a Randy’s Neighborhood Market, headquartered in Iowa.

The same week, Shawn Christiansen, general manager of Gordy’s Black River Falls location, applied for a liquor license on behalf of Hansen’s IGA, headquartered Bangor.

Heineman declined to comment. Christiansen could not be reached.

Hansen’s IGA launched its most northerly branch in Stanley in May 2015 and has locations in Neillsville and Mondovi.

Nick Hansen, co-owner of Hansen’s IGA, declined to comment on acquisitions.

Tobias Mann of Lee Newspapers contributed to this report.


SARAH SEIFERT, The Herald  

Chippewa Falls held its first-ever Silent Peace Walk on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at Riverfront Park. The walk was organized by Rita Simon of Chippewa Falls to encourage peace in the community. This is the first walk of its kind in Chippewa Falls. Three woman began it after being concerned with turmoil in other parts of the country and the world.


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Chippewa coffeehouse helping Harvey victims with baked goods

Chippewa Falls is sending aid to Hurricane Harvey victims—one scone at a time.

Tracy Heidtke, manager and co-owner of Chippewa Falls’ beloved coffee shop at 608 N. Bridge Street, 4:30 AM Coffeehouse, said the Harvey aid effort began when one of her employees found she had breast cancer.

“We were trying to come up with a way we could help her,” Heidtke said. So eight weeks ago, Heidtke created “Wendo Wednesdays.” Her employee picked a scone flavor each Wednesday, and half the proceeds from those scones were donated to that employee to help cover medical costs.

“It’s unreal,” Heidtke said of the weekly benefit. “Our highest was 130 (scones of the particular flavor) in a day, which keeps us really busy.”

The employee eventually began recovering, but soon news of Hurricane Harvey battering the Texas coastline began to reach Chippewa Falls. Heidtke decided to continue the program and redirect the proceeds.

“We feel like this makes it easy for everybody who wants to help,” Heidtke said. “They get their scone, and a dollar of the proceeds goes to Harvey victims.”

4:30 AM also has an employee who is native to Texas: Kathy Guilhas, nicknamed “Yeehaw” and “Dallas” by the 4:30 AM team. Guilhas has family and friends in Houston, Heidtke said. That made it even easier to make the decision to send help to victims affected by the storm.

“We thought we could help another one of ours,” Heidtke said. “We all have family, or know a friend who’s in Texas. We have to help our own country and our people.”

The coffeehouse celebrated its 15th anniversary in July.

Community members can contribute to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts by visiting the Houston Food Bank at www.houstonfoodbank.org, or visiting the nearest Red Cross location to donate blood at 3485 E. Hamilton Ave. in Eau Claire.


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Cornell School District disputes teacher's lawsuit

A gender discrimination lawsuit filed by teacher Caroline Hickethier against the School District of Cornell will be heard in Eau Claire County court on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018, according to a filing Tuesday.

Hickethier filed the lawsuit June 29 in the Western District branch of Federal Court in Madison. She teaches English in grades 6-12 and has taught 29 years at either the Cornell Middle or High School.

“We don’t feel we are liable for anything,” Cornell Superintendent Paul Schley said Wednesday.

In the lawsuit, Hickethier claims she is receiving “compensation significantly less than male teachers of comparable seniority despite the fact that (Hickethier) performs equal works in teaching positions that require equal skill, effort and responsibility and which are performed under equal working conditions.”

In a filing on Aug. 2, the district denies that allegation and several others made by Hickethier. The district maintains Hickethier’s claims may be barred by the statute of limitations; that Hickethier’s suit failed to state a claim where there claim can be awarded; and that she doesn’t perform “equal work” when compared with two male teachers cited as examples in the lawsuit.

“(Hickethier) does not have the same licensure/certification and is not required to perform the same (job) as the (two male teachers) she identifies,” the district said.

According to the lawsuit and the reply from the school district:

Hickethier, heading into her 30rd year in the district, has an undergraduate degree in English and a Master’s degree in education, along with 27 graduate credits in her teaching area.

Degree-related advantages are counted in teacher compensation for those hired before the passage of the 2011 Wisconsin Act. 10.

Teachers qualifying under the “old” system are given consideration for degrees, seniority and credits in decisions regarding their salaries.

For the 2015-16 school year, Hickethier was paid $58,016.15, plus $529 for being an advisor to students.

“In that same year two male teachers, Richard Erickson and Steven Parker, received salaries of $65,587.15 and $67,0000 respectively,” the lawsuit says.

Erickson teaches agriculture education and has been with the district for 32 years. He has a bachelor’s degree.

The lawsuit said the district increased Erickson’s salary by $17,400 because he did not have the district’s medical benefit.

“Parker was a new hire in 2015 from an adjacent school district where he had taught for 18 years. He was classified as a ‘new’ hire, notwithstanding his years in teaching before Act 10. Parker started with a base salary in 2015 of $67,000, which was $8.983.85 higher than (Hickethier) with identical benefits.”

For the 2016-2017 school year, Hickethier was paid a $59,000 salary based on part on her seniority, $2,800 for credits and $2,500 for her Masters. But Erickson was paid $67,100 and Parker’s salary was raised to $69,000.

The school district said Hickethier was paid $59,000, which she received in addition to taking cash for not taking the district’s health insurance.

For the 2017-18 school year, the Cornell School District proposed paying Hickethier the same as the previous school year, even though a supervisor of hers at first proposed giving her a raise to $59,750 if the school board approved.

“This proposed wage increase was withdrawn by (the school district) when (Hickethier) complained of the discrimination against her based on gender. The current proposal is to pay (Hickethier) a salary of $58,800.” That’s with a base salary of $38,000, $12,000 for her 29 years of seniority, $6,300 for her credits; and $2,500 for her Masters. The total is a decrease of $200 from the previous school year.

Hickethier receives what’s called a cash replacement of $16,500 for not participating in the school district’s group health insurance plan, but unlike Erickson, that amount is not built into her salary.

The school district, however, says the total compensation Erickson receives is actually less than Hickethier.

“When (Hickethier) complained of discrimination, Schley asked the school board to terminate its long-standing practice of publishing teacher salaries, but the motion to do so remains pending,” the lawsuit said.

“The payment of additional compensation to Parker and Erickson is sex discrimination in employment in violation of the Equal Pay Act,” the lawsuit said.

The school district replies: “The difference in pay between (Hickethier) and the two (teachers she names) are the result of factors other than (gender).”

Hickethier is asking for double the difference of her salary and that of Parker, and for the court to mandate that the amount she received for opting out of the district’s health insurance plan since 2015 be applied as salary until she retires. She is asking for an order prohibiting the school district from retaliating against her because of the lawsuit.

Hickethier is represented by the legal firm of Lommen Abdo of Minneapolis. The school district is represented by the Madison law firm of Axley Brynelson, LLP.