By Jim Hague
Reporter staff writer
The North Bergen Reporter - February 24, 2002
In a shocking turn of events, A-P-A Transport Corporation, a mainstay in North Bergen for more than 50 years, has decided to close its corporate headquarters and will begin to cease all operations in trucking and transport as early as this week.
A-P-A Transport, which has been owned and operated by the lmperatore family (who also own NY Waterway) since 1947, did not offer any details other than failing finances as to reason for the sudden closure. In all, 1,800 employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure. A-P-A has serviced customers throughout the United States and Canada.
A company letter was sent out to employees last week stating that operations "would begin to wind down as soon as possible."
The letter, written by A-P-A president Armand Pohan, said that "mounting losses" and "[an unidentified] bank's refusal to provide a loan has forced us to shut our doors."
"The loan was our last and best hope, and we cannot continue to operate without this financing." Pohan said in the letter. "A-P-A has been a great organization. It is still a great organization, full of dedicated, hard-working people. It tears my heart out to see a business and its people work so hard and still fail."
Pohan said in the letter than he considered asking employees to take a significant pay, cut, but that still wouldn't offset the difference that they hoped to obtain via the loan.
It was not known how long the firm would continue to do business, but all work was down to a bare minimum as of Thursday.
"It depends on the nature of the job," said AP-A spokesman Rich Santos. "Some employees will be retained longer than others. It will all be handled so that we do not inconvenience any of our vendors or our customers."
However, Teamsters Local 560 President Pete Brown said that the shutdown is already "underway," with only a limited number of his members still working at the site.
Local 560 represents 325 members, basically drivers and dock workers, who worked at A-PA.
"They had about four or five guys to put out freight [Thursday morning]," Brown said from his Union City office. "Monday was a holiday. so Tuesday morning at 5 a.m., 1 got a call telling me that everyone should stay home."
Brown said that the shutdown came as a complete shock to him.
"Every time 1 visited the job site, there was a lot of work," Brown said. "Freight was going out and there were plenty of dock workers needed. There was a sense of wellness on the job site. Constantly, work was going on. That's why this came as such a shock. We had no idea and got no notice."
Brown said that he first learned of the shutdown last Thursday when he received a package from the International Teamsters Union telling him to call a meeting of the 3'-15 members.
"That's when 1 first learned of it and that's when our members first learned of it," Brown said. "With no warning, they decided to shut things down right away. This is like New Jersey's version of Enron. Everyone was led to believe that everything was rosy there, but obviously, that wasn't the case at all."
Brown said that he knows of another 259 office workers that were also immediately, laid off.
Only a skeletal crew remained on the job Thursday morning. There was a lot of activity coming in and out of the facility, located at the foot of 88th Street off Tonnelle Avenue, but many of the trucking venues were empty. Efforts to reach other company employees on the site were fruitless.
North Bergen officials said that they planned to have a meeting with A-P-A officials early this week, possibly, as early as Monday, to discuss the future of the site. The property generated more than $1 million annually, in property taxes.
The closure will serve as another financial hit to the town's tax base, after the Intemet shopping firm Webvan, which had refurbished a 91st Street warehouse, went bankrupt last year, and after Kmart's distribution center on West Side Avenue recently ceased operations.
Brown said that he will seek legal action against A-P-A officials, citing the federal Warren Law, which requires businesses to give employees 60 days' notice of any pending closure.
"We're going to pursue every avenue of legality," Brown said. "We have to insure that our members get what they have coming to them. This is horrible. We have members who have 29 years on the job, just months away from collecting a pension, and they now have nothing. Many of our members have medical insurance that will expire in April. They knew what was going on and offered no warning. That's just horrendous."
Brown said that he is trying to place his members in other jobs, but unfortunately, the jobs are scarce.
"Most of the freight jobs are real slow right now," Brown said. "We have other drivers and dockmen who are simply not working. It's practically impossible to find jobs, especially ones that will enable the workers to continue their health and welfare benefits. 1 really fear that we're going to end up with a lot of people declaring bankruptcy over this, because it was so out of the blue."
Apparently, New Penn Motor Express, another freight hauler based in Lebanon, Pa., has purchased A-P-A's client list and has been selected by A-P-A as the preferred carrier to continue providing service to its former customers.
New Penn is said to have already, taken over some of A-P-A's prime routes, but it will not inherit any of A-P-A's assets or liabilities.
"That doesn't mean a hill of spit to us," Brown said. "If it does happen, we'll probably get 10 or 12 jobs out of 325. What makes the whole deal more obnoxious is that A-P-A had its own pension and benefit fund. It was exclusive to A-P-A. Now, what happens to that?"
It is also not known what will happen to the extensive A-P-A Recreation Center, where several local programs, including local high school Project Graduation exercises and some North Bergen recreation programs, have been held.
The New Jersey Nets also used the facility, for their daily practice sessions in the 1980s and '90s.
A-P-A was founded in 1947 by five Imperatore brothers - Arthur, George, Arnold. Harold and Eugene - of West New York. Revenues in the firm went from $23,000 in its first Year of operation to an estimated $180 million last year.
Arthur Imperatore, Sr. still currently owns NY Waterway, the ferry service that shuttles upwards of 60,000 commuters a day between Manhattan and points in Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City, as well as other land holdings in Weehawken, including the Port Imperial North area.