A couple of years ago, a small aviation-services company in Eagan noticed that a Canadian firm took a new name — its name, Global Aviation Services.
Then, that other company started doing business for Sun Country Airlines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. And then, it got into a fight with Sun Country and left. Air travelers and unpaid workers turned irate. Lawsuit and regulatory investigations followed.
All were meant for Global Aviation Services Inc. of Toronto but instead landed on its corporate doppelgänger, Global Aviation Services LLC of Eagan. For nearly a year now, says Gina Coleal, an executive at the Global in Eagan, “we’ve always had to prove that we are not the bad Global.”
In addition to lost time and money, the Eagan company has had more trouble hiring in an already-tight labor market. Prospective workers wrongly think it jilted previous employees. And in another twist, the Canadian firm even paid some of its bills with the Eagan firm’s money.
The entanglement of the two companies began at the airport in Tampa, Fla., two years ago. But it grew because of the work at Sun Country.
The airline, also based in Eagan, decided it could save money by not directly hiring and controlling about 350 of its airport workers. It sought a contractor to manage people who check in passengers, handle bags and clean planes. Early last year, it tapped Global of Toronto for the job, even though the firm had no prior experience at MSP. The Sun Country contract immediately doubled that firm’s U.S. employee base.
Within weeks, executives at both Sun Country and Global of Toronto realized they’d made a mistake. They ended the deal last summer as Sun Country grappled with flight delays, long lines, a spike in lost luggage and other problems. Two months ago, Sun Country sued Global of Toronto for the failures.
“All our problems started back when Sun Country announced Global would be doing its ground handling at MSP,” said Brad Osborn, founder and chief executive of Global of Eagan. “Now, every person asks us if we are being sued by Sun Country.”
Global hears about Global
The two Global Aviation Services companies perform behind-the-scenes work. Airlines and others hire Global of Eagan, which has 88 workers in the Twin Cities and about $35 million in annual revenue, to maintain and repair airport equipment, from catering trucks to baggage conveyors.
Global of Toronto is hired by airlines to perform ground handling and passenger services. Two years ago, it used a different name in Florida, NavStar Aviation Inc. It even hired the Global of Eagan to maintain some of its equipment at the Tampa airport, where it has its U.S. headquarters.
One day, a banker phoned Global of Eagan with questions about a payment made to its account by a company with the same name. Osborn then learned that NavStar had changed its name in 2017 with the Florida secretary of state and was now doing business as Global Aviation Services USA Inc. (Its website does not include the “USA” portion of its name.)
Osborn thought it was strange NavStar chose the name. “They knew we existed. We were working for them as a vendor,” he said.
He said he e-mailed Carmel Borg, chief executive of the other company, and asked about it but didn’t get a reply.
Borg said via e-mail he didn’t receive an e-mail from Osborn. “With regard to the name,” Borg wrote, “a national search was performed and the selected name, ‘Global Aviation Services USA, Inc.’ was available.”
Osborn said his firm didn’t have a trademark or copyright on Global Aviation Services. It had coexisted for years with yet another small firm in Houston called Global Aviation Services, and Osborn said he thought it probably could with the Global of Toronto since they only overlapped at airports in Florida.
He soon realized that wouldn’t be the case.
Sun Country’s deal
In February 2018, Sun Country announced plans to lay off hundreds of workers and turn over ground handling and passenger services at MSP to Global of Toronto. Suddenly, Osborn started hearing from seemingly everyone.
“Our investors were congratulating us on the contract. My friends were congratulating me,” Osborn said. “Everyone thought it was us.”
The firm’s human resources office was inundated with applications for jobs it didn’t have. After a few weeks, Global of Eagan put a headline on its website saying it was not hiring ramp agents or ground workers.
Global of Toronto took over Sun Country’s MSP jobs in May. But it quickly became apparent that Global wasn’t scheduling enough staff to handle the airline’s passenger volume, according to Sun Country’s recent lawsuit. The airline’s executives and headquarters staff started pitching in at the airport and, by late summer, Global of Toronto was out.
Meanwhile, Global of Eagan started getting complaints. Sun Country customers called in search of lost luggage. Workers from Global of Toronto wanted paychecks.
Next came the lawsuits. Coleal said it received about 15 legal notices from former Global of Toronto employees over back wages, injuries or wrongful terminations. “When we explain that we aren’t the same people, they think we are lying,” Coleal said.
Borg said his firm “is not aware of any of that occurring and all clients have the Tampa address for mailings.”
And as Global of Toronto was in crisis mode at MSP, Global of Eagan jumped in to help out with maintenance.
Global of Eagan has not been paid the $10,000 that Global of Toronto owes for that work, said Barb Severson, vice president of finance for Global of Eagan. Borg did not respond to questions about the matter.
In the midst of the Sun Country fallout, Global of Eagan discovered withdrawals from one of its bank accounts to a drug-testing firm called Quest Diagnostics, which has operations around the country.
“We don’t use Quest Diagnostics,” Severson said. “It turned out to be the other Global, who was using our bank account to pay Quest.”
Between January 2018 and June 2018, $16,000 was withdrawn from the account for drug tests performed in Florida for Global of Toronto. Because the two had done business together, the Global of Toronto had Global of Eagan’s bank account information for payment purposes.
“They told us it was accidental,” Severson said. “Luckily, we caught it before they got too deep into it.”
Global of Toronto said it was a Quest billing issue. When they learned of it, Borg said his company contacted Quest and “the issue was then remedied.”
To date, Global of Eagan has received two-thirds of that $16,000 and says it is awaiting the remainder from Quest. “The whole thing is a confusing mess,” Severson said.
One day late last summer, an agent from the U.S. Department of Labor showed up at Global of Eagan, walked into Coleal’s office, flashed his badge and said he was there to perform a wage audit. She explained he had the wrong company.
A spokesman for the Labor Department confirmed it did have an investigation into Global Aviation Services USA Inc. related to back wages of about $12,300 owed to 80 employees.
Some of those unpaid workers bashed Eagan-based Global on websites. Coleal said she could tell that many of the complaints were meant for the other company based on their job descriptions. She petitioned the websites to review and remove the complaints.
Since Sun Country first hired Global of Toronto, Global of Eagan’s average hiring time for a new mechanic has doubled, now taking between 75 and 90 days per hire, Coleal said.
“We have some very busy days right now, and the shortage of workers doesn’t help any,” said Scott Brau, a mechanic with Global of Eagan.
Time for a new name
Osborn started Global Aviation Services LLC out of his Twin Cities home in 2007 as a sister company to Global Ground Support, based in Olathe, Kan. Now, they are both subsidiaries of Air T Inc., a publicly traded firm with corporate offices in North Carolina and St. Louis Park.
Osborn originally named the company Global Aviation Services because it fit with the Kansas company’s name. That doesn’t matter now, he said.
“We are going to rebrand,” Osborn said. “And we are going to trademark it.”