Even though employees at the Peer Bearing Co. no longer work for the Spungen family that recently sold the Waukegan-based ball bearings maker, they still received a turkey each this Thanksgiving in keeping with tradition.
But even better was the gift that came in mid-September, when the Spungens threw a party to celebrate the company's acquisition by a Swedish company.
They gave away $6.6 million in year-end bonuses to Peer's 230 employees, decided by a formula based on each worker's years of service.
"My grandfather was always charitable," said Danny Spungen, grandson of Peer founder Nathan Spungen. He said Laurence and Florence Spungen and their four children decided on a bonus formula a year before the acquisition closed.
He said the decision was "a gamble that we would come out OK as well."
Family members signed two thank-you cards to each employee, one in Spanish and one in English, expressing gratitude for "the loyalty and hard work of our employees over the years."
"They treated us like extended family," said Maria Dima, who works at the company along with her husband, Valentin. "We won the lottery."
Savings and splurges
On the day the checks were distributed, Valentin Dima watched as co-workers broke down in tears over their bonus checks. He drove home first, then opened his envelope: $33,000. His wife received a check for a smaller amount, and the two Romanian immigrants have since taken a Caribbean cruise to celebrate.
"This company gave us stability, so we dare to spend some money on such a thing," Valentin Dima said.
While neighbors and friends faced new financial strains, the bonuses have helped Peer employees 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," said Dave Tiderman, who received $35,000. "This is something that just really doesn't happen."
Tiderman, who started at Peer in 1985 and worked his way up from the warehouse to assistant product manager, said most of his bonus will stay in the bank because of the uncertain economy.
"I do have to put some tires on my truck," he added.
Jose Rojas, who works in Peer's customer service department, said he plans to save his $10,000 check for his son's college education.
Peer made $100 million in sales last year and was acquired for an undisclosed amount. The new owners intend to operate the company based 40 miles north of Chicago as a wholly owned subsidiary. Workers have been told that most will keep their jobs.