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Standard pay for factory work is low

For $5 an hour, Terry Halladay figured she might as well have been flipping hamburgers, not doing factory assembly work.

That's why in March she turned down an offer for a full-time job at Interconnect Cable, a rapidly growing cable and electronics assembly company at Airport Industrial Park south of Brooksville.

An experienced solderer who previously had worked at Sparton Electronics, Halladay joined Interconnect as a part-time laborer in January. She was making $4.35 an hour, 10 cents above the minimum wage.

When her boss offered her a full-time job at $5 an hour, she was taken aback. Halladay, 41, had been earning $7 an hour at Sparton. With her experience, she expected a higher wage.

"It's kind of a slap in the face," said Halladay, who now works for her husband's business, Bypass Garage on State Road 50 in Brooksville. "The companies right now, they figure they don't have to pay a decent wage."

It's not an uncommon complaint among those who work in Hernando's small but growing manufacturing sector.

Allan Boone, Interconnect's president, described Halladay as a "disgruntled former employee" who left the company too soon to get pay increases that other employees receive. Interconnect employs 80.

"We pay above the normal standard for this area?" Boone asked.

According a 1995 survey by the Florida Department of Labor, the mean wage for assemblers and fabricators was $5.73 an hour in Hernando; $6.97 an hour in Florida. Assemblers at Interconnect are paid $4.25 to $10 an hour, depending on their efficiency, the company said.

Like many other manufacturers, Interconnect starts its assembly workers at or just above the minimum wage to "feel out the employees and make sure the person is capable of meeting our efficiencies," Boone said. "And if they are, they move right up the ladder."

Halladay would have been eligible for a 25-cent-an-hour raise had she worked full time for three months, Boone said.

"She just didn't follow through," he said.

Halladay said no one told her about future pay raises.

Gus Guadagnino, past president of the Hernando Manufacturers Association, said Interconnect and other Hernando manufacturers are not "getting rich" at the expense of their workers.

He conceded that manufacturing wages generally are lower here than in the Northeast. But, he said that mostly results from the state's lower cost of living, and the limited presence of unions.

Guadagnino, president of Seaboard Pencil Co., which makes imprinted pencils and golf tees, added that global pressures have forced U.S. manufacturers to pay lower wages.

"I've got to compete with a factory in China that's paying their workers 5 cents an hour," he said.

A deal to sell the Masaryktown Restaurant has fallen through.

After running the restaurant for 19 years, Harold Schaefer and his family had planned to sell the business to Ivan Kepner, a former real estate salesman who lives just south of the Hernando-Pasco county line.

Schaefer's daughter and her husband, Judy and Alan Vonberg, who run the 95-seat restaurant, say they want a quieter life and would like to spend more time with their families.

The deal with Kepner was supposed to close July 1.

But Kepner couldn't get the necessary financing to buy the restaurant, a former hotel on U.S. 41 that was built in 1924, Alan Vonberg said Friday.

Kepner, who helped run a catering business with his father in Muncy, Pa., could not be reached for comment.

Vonberg said the family is still searching for a buyer and won't close Masaryktown's oldest business.

"We're still opening and operating," he said.

_ Richard Verrier can be reached at 352-848-1434 or by e-mail.