(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – Breaking up is hard to do, especially when a union contract is involved. And when your company is worth more to the union dead than alive, they can really cause you problems.
A small paving contractor from Elko is fighting off a union’s attempt to shut them down. The union is going after the company’s customers to cut off its cash flow and drive it under.
In May 2007, Mach 4 Construction signed a contract with Operating Engineers Local No. 3. After expressing their dissatisfaction with the union, Mach 4 attempted to terminate the agreement. While they missed an initial deadline, they submitted a notice to the union, which the union has refused to recognize.
Though Mach 4 has not hired workers from the union hall for years, the Operating Engineers claims the company remains a union firm to this day, and Mach 4 is going to pay for the privilege. Pay dearly.
Angela Miller, one half of the husband and wife managers of Mach 4 Construction LLC, says of the Operating Engineers, “They want us bankrupt. That’s what they want to see.”
During discussions designed to reach an agreement with the Operating Engineers, the union has demanded payments that would force the company out of business. In addition, it has also insisted that Mach 4 fire all its current employees and hire a whole new workforce out of the union hall.
“They want me to fire my people and hire theirs,” says Miller.
Other people have told Miller union representatives have been saying that the union’s intent is to put Mach 4 out of business. If the union succeeds in forcing Mach 4 to close its doors or declare bankruptcy, that would open the door for the union to assert its rights under Nevada state law to force current and former customers of Mach 4 to make payments to the union Trust Fund that Mach 4 is now disputing.
The Trust Fund recently sent notices to customers of Mach 4, advising them to send payments to the union rather than to Mach 4, thus attempting to cut off the company’s cash flow. Under Nevada law, owners and general contractors are ultimately responsible for making sure all labor payments by their subcontractors are made, including those to union benefit funds. The unions can pursue GC’s and owners for money it claims to be owed even after the union subcontractor has gone into bankruptcy. And these claims are outside of any bankruptcy judgment so they cannot be reduced by a judge.
“It’s about putting this company and these employees and their families out in the street,” says Miller.
Mach 4’s relationship with the union was hardly smooth sailing, even before their latest conflict. The union approached the newly-formed company as the mines began booming and it struggled to find help for the contracts it was securing. The Operating Engineers promised during the courtship period that Mach 4 would be so happy with the union they’d be ecstatic to re-sign after the first year.
The union didn’t live up to its promises, according to Miller. The company complained of being forced to field-train supposedly highly-trained operators sent to a remote jobsite, where finding a replacement would be difficult. There were accidents and other incidents as well.
Mach 4 has been employing about 35 people in the field, about one-third of whom are equipment operators covered by the agreement. The remainder are supervisors, carpenters, laborers and concrete workers. Yet this dispute could force the company to close its doors, hurling those 35 workers and their families into the whirlwind of unemployment and the prospect of having to find a new job in this climate.
It has been an emotional time for Miller and her husband. The stress of the prospect of losing not only their business but everything they’ve worked for their entire lives has at times been unbearable and they have sometimes done things they later regretted.
But Miller says she and her husband will continue to fight on. To her, it’s a matter of survival – for her company, her employees and their families and her own family as well.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Bureau.)