Pet Pantry closes Carson City operation without informing employees

Employees of a Carson City-based pet food company say they weren't notified when the business closed its doors and moved its telemarketing business to the Philippines

About 70 employees of Pet Pantry International Inc. were laid off Tuesday, including Jim Lestrenge, the company's vice president for telemarketing and sales. He worked at Pet Pantry for three years.

"We went on vacation, and they told us to take an extra day," he said. "When we got back, the offices were stripped.

"When I started with this company, they had four telemarketers," he said. "They asked if I could help build a solid telemarketing team so we could build up the franchises. I built this company up, and this is what I get."

Pet Pantry was the subject of a voluntary recall after receiving a shipment of food possibly rendered from a Canadian cow that tested positive for mad cow disease. The company replaced 1,300 bags of dog food on May 29.

Gayle Dupre, a team leader and trainer with the company, worked there for a little more than a year.

"In the employee handbook, they promised us seven days' notice, but we didn't even get that," she said. "If I'd had some notice, I could have been looking for another job. I can draw unemployment, but that's not enough to pay the rent. I'm a single mother. We're going to be out on the streets."

Teary-eyed, she talked as she bought a couple of newspapers at a nearby convenience store to start her search for a new job. Her 9-year-old son, Josh, was at her side.

Dupre said company officials told all of their regular employees not to show up for work on May 30 or Monday because the computer systems were being upgraded. She lives near Pet Pantry, and her first inkling that something was wrong came over the weekend when she saw movers taking equipment out of the building.

She said the company did not employ its telemarketers full-time and does not pay benefits.

"Thank God for Medicaid," she said. "My son has asthma."

Karen Rhodes, spokeswoman for the Nevada's Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation, said such incidents are common nationwide. The only regulation that protect employees is the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, a federal regulation passed in 1989.

The act requires employers to provide 60 days' notice before mass layoffs, but covers only those employers with 100 or more full-time employees.

She said Nevada's Rapid Response team, part of the Employment Securities Division, can help.

In the meantime, many of the laid-off Pet Pantry workers are wondering how they will make next week's bills, said Carol Thomas, a 70-year-old cancer survivor who was laid off today.

"I have a wonderful son who is taking me back to New York," she said. "But my heart is breaking for these people.

"So many of the young girls have one or two babies and no one to support them. My friend Donna is in her late 60s," she said. "Where will she get a job? Some of these kids don't have food money for this week."

Founded in 1996, Pet Pantry sells pet food through telemarketing, with franchises in 25 states.

Company president Don Lockman did not return phone calls Tuesday, but a press release said the companies' call center division is being relocated overseas.

"Over the past several years, there has been a landslide of adverse legislation passed regarding U.S.-based companies with call center operations, both in 30-plus state legislative bodies as well as at the federal level," he said. "The net result is that it has fostered a variety of cumbersome compliance issues, like 'no-call lists' and other restrictions, thereby forcing companies like ours to absorb dramatically increased costs of operations and either relocate, cease operations, or charge higher fees. It is most unfortunate that, in a critical time of rising unemployment and economic uncertainty in the U.S., companies like ours must resort to this, to remain viable."

Dupre said Lockman took a trip to the Philippines four months ago and suspects he has known about the move since then.

"They took their business to the Philippines because it's cheaper," she said.


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