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No pay, no jobs for 250 at beef plant

The Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen is shown in this 2011 image. (Daily Republic file photo)

ABERDEEN (AP) -- Laid-off workers at the Northern Beef Packers plant in the northern South Dakota city of Aberdeen say they haven't been paid for more than two weeks and that the plant hasn't slaughtered any cattle for more than three weeks.

More than 250 workers were laid off Wednesday, following the layoffs of more than 100 workers three months ago. That leaves only six workers to watch over the idled $115 million plant as it goes through Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which protects it from creditors while it reorganizes.

"It was inevitable," Jeffery LaCroix, who worked on the plant's slaughter line, told the American News. "We haven't been killing cows."

KSFY-TV in Sioux Falls reported that President and CEO David Palmer said early Thursday that he had resigned, but later said he was still with the company. Palmer would not say why he made the earlier comment about resigning, the station reported.

Contacted at the plant Thursday afternoon, Palmer told The Associated Press: "I have no comment."

Company officials have not commented on the layoffs. They said previously that they were trying to raise another $20 million for plant operations.

Northern Beef has struggled since its founder secured land for the plant in 2006. It started operating on a limited basis last fall after years of delays caused by everything from financial woes and lawsuits to flooding. Officials had hoped to eventually process 1,500 cattle per day from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court documents show that the plant now owned by Korean investors owes millions of dollars to nearly 300 creditors in the U.S. and South Korea.

Oshik Song, who owns about 40 percent of the company, told KSFY that he will be traveling to South Korea shortly for an investors meeting.

"We are working to move forward," he said.

Northern Beef also owes about $500,000 in back property taxes to Brown County and has pledged to pay $950,000 to help resurface a road in the area. County commissioners have approved hiring an attorney with expertise in bankruptcy law, according to the American News.

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation has scheduled a Friday meeting in Aberdeen with the laid-off workers to inform them about unemployment benefits and services available to help them find new jobs.

Mayor Mike Levsen told the American News he is unhappy with the beef plant's management.

"There is a realization that people in management have a responsibility to their employees," he said. "One would hope management would act in such a way that they wouldn't screw up people's lives. We literally have had hundreds of people come to this community to make it grow. Now because of the failure of the beef plant, their personal lives have been disrupted."