“Shady” closing costs truckers their jobs

Out-of-work truck drivers on December 1 rallied a Minnesota freight company accusing the company of stealing their jobs.

Until November 20, the drivers, members of Teamsters Local 120, worked for Lakeville Motor Express, a regional less-than-load freight company based in Roseville, a community in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

When they showed up for work on November 20, they saw a note posted by the owner on a fence near the entrance.

It read, “Lakeville Motor Express, Inc. Effective November 19, 2016 has permanently ceased operations.”

Later, they were also notified that they wouldn’t receive their last paycheck.

But Local 120 officials said that the company hasn’t really gone out of business; it just changed its name to Finish Line Express and moved to a nearby Maple Grove.

“It didn’t close, the freight is still there, the trucks are still there, the customers are still there. All they did was change the logo on the trucks,” said Virgil Christoffersen, Local 120 business agent. “Now they are saying they won’t even pay the employees for work they had already done or benefits that have been accrued and are owed.”

The Teamsters called the closure of Lakeville, “shady” and vowed to fight it.

Earlier in the year, Lakeville’s owner began transferring trucks and equipment to Finish Line Express. Some former Lakeville customers were switched to Finish Line as well.

Finish Line is owned by a former Lakeville employee with ties to Roger Wilsey, the CEO of LME, Inc., which owns Lakeville.

Finish Line is a non-union company.

According to Local 120, work at Lakeville was transferred to Finish Line to avoid paying union wages.

“They are doing this to undercut labor costs and drive down the entire market,” said Bill Wederbrand, secretary-treasurer of Local 120. “Every step of this has been done in an underhanded and dishonest fashion. The icing on the cake, that we should all be outraged by, is that there are over 100 families who, without notice, are all of sudden wondering how they will get by, how they will put food on the table at Thanksgiving, and presents under the tree at Christmas.”

Workers had no advanced warning that their holidays were about to be ruined.

Minnesota state law requires employers to give their employees 60-days of advanced notice if they plan to shut down their business. Lakeville took advantage of a loophole in the law, which allows employers with fewer than 100 workers to avoid giving advanced notice.

During the months leading up to the closure, some Lakeville non-union clerical and administrative staff went to work for Finish Line whittling down Lakeville’s staff to just under 100.

Perhaps the harshest thing about the closure is that Lakeville management said that the company had run out of money and couldn’t pay wages that had already been earned. Lakeville also stop paying for benefits such as health insurance.

Lakeville workers protested the shady business closure with a rally on December 1 at Finish Line. Workers carried signs charging LME and Finish Line with wage theft.

At the rally, Teamster officials said that they would seek justice for the Lakeville workers.

“Every day we’re going up and down this street, trying to find (customers of Lakeville and Finish Line) and divert them in a different direction,” said Tom Erickson, Local 120’s president at the rally. “That’s the only way we’re going to win this thing.””

The union is asking people to support Lakeville workers by contacting Lakeville’s customers through  Facebook and asking them, “Will (the customer’s name) support the type of business practices used to hurt 95 families of Lakeville Motor Express by continuing to utilize their sister companies LME and FLE (Finish Line Express).”

Some of Lakeville’s more prominent customers include John Deere, 3M, and Land O’ Lakes food and beverage company.

Local 120 also plans to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board and may take legal action.

“If what they did isn’t illegal, it should be–period,” said Erickson. “This is not right, not moral, and not Minnesotan. These executives should be ashamed of themselves.”

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