Dave Tiderman wondered if the decimal point was in the wrong place when he opened his $35,000 company bonus. Jose Rojas saw his $10,000 check and thought, "That can't be right."
Valentin Dima watched co-workers breaking down in tears over their bonus checks and didn't trust his emotions. He drove home first, then opened his envelope: $33,000.
Year-end bonuses are rare these days. Rarer still is what the Spungen family, owners of a ball bearings company in Waukegan, Ill., about 40 miles north of Chicago, did as they sold the business.
They gave out whopping thank-you bonuses.
A total of $6.6 million is being shared by just 230 employees of Waukegan-based Peer Bearing Co., with facilities in England and the United States. Amounts varied and were based on years of service.
"They treated us like extended family," said Maria Dima, who works at Peer Bearing along with her husband, Valentin, and received a somewhat smaller check than he did. "We won the lottery."
With $100 million in sales last year, Peer recently was acquired by a Swedish company for an undisclosed amount. Danny Spungen, whose grandfather founded the company in 1941, said it was a unanimous family decision to thank employees with the bonuses.
Laurence and Florence Spungen and their four children decided on a bonus formula a year before the sale closed to SKF Group, "a gamble that we would come out OK as well," Danny Spungen said.
He and other family members signed, by hand, two thank-you cards to each employee, one in Spanish and one in English. Each card was printed with all the workers' names and the years they were hired. The text expressed gratitude for "the loyalty and hard work of our employees over the years."
The new owners intend to operate Peer as a wholly owned subsidiary. Workers have been told that most will keep their jobs, and life at the company hasn't changed much since the party in mid-September when the bonuses were distributed.
Incongruously, the bonuses coincided with the U.S. economic meltdown. While neighbors and friends faced new financial strains, the Peer employees could breathe easier.
"I know people who work for corporate America are not going to get treated like that. And most of the family owned businesses are not going to treat you like that," Tiderman said. "This is something that just really doesn't happen."