Hallmark to keep Lawrence plant closed for at least 3 more weeks; employees to be furloughed

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The Hallmark Cards production center, 101 McDonald Drive, is pictured on April 7, 2020.

One of Lawrence’s largest manufacturers will be shut down for at least another three weeks, and many of its approximately 800 employees will need to start filing for unemployment.

Hallmark confirmed that its Lawrence production center would be closed until April 27. The company temporarily closed the greeting card plant, which is near the West Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, on March 23. At that time, the plant didn’t specify how long the plant would be shut down. But with stay-at-home orders still in place, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company said Tuesday that the plant would remain shuttered for at least three more weeks.

During the original two-week shutdown, Hallmark gave affected employees an additional two weeks of paid time off, ensuring that plant workers would not miss a paycheck during the shutdown. But with the shutdown being extended, it now appears most plant employees will be furloughed, which means they’ll stop receiving paychecks but that they will have jobs once the plant reopens. Furloughed workers are eligible for unemployment benefits in Kansas.

“Employees are on paid leave, followed by furlough during which they will not work and not be paid,” Hallmark spokeswoman JiaoJiao Shen said in a brief message to the Journal-World. “But they will continue to be covered by the medical, dental and vision insurance benefits in which they are currently enrolled. Hallmark will pay their benefit premium. Any employee placed on furlough may apply for unemployment benefits. Hallmark will not contest the application.”

Hallmark is generally considered the second largest private employer in Lawrence, trailing the Maximus call center in the East Hills Business Park. That employer is staying open as an essential business that is exempt from the stay-at-home order. It provides customer service for several government contracts.

Other manufacturers in the city also have stayed open under the essential business clause, but Hallmark has not sought to invoke that. Greeting cards, gift wrap and other such Hallmark items aren’t easily fitting into that essential definition. But the Lawrence plant is essential to Hallmark’s operation, which means you can bet the company will want to get it operating as soon as possible. The Lawrence production center produces most of the company’s greeting cards for all of North America. (Raise your hand if you are working from home and would like to send the person sharing the “conference room couch” a “Wish you weren’t here” card.)

Hallmark also is reportedly cutting the pay of its executives by 20% during the downturn created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hallmark has its corporate headquarters in the Crown Center district of Kansas City, Mo.

The temporary closure of the Hallmark plant is in line with what is happening statewide. As the Journal-World reported last week, unemployment numbers show that Kansas’ manufacturing industry is producing the largest number of job losses in the state thus far. Numbers from the Kansas Department of Labor show 19,050 manufacturing workers have filed for unemployment in Kansas since mid-March, when the COVID-19 pandemic started to produce major disruptions in the state.

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