LME trucking in New Brighton abruptly shut down 30 delivery terminals in several states Thursday, a move that left hundreds of workers laid off with no notice and at least some unpaid.
Affiliated owners abruptly closed Lakeville Motor Express two and a half years ago, also with no notice, and LME began last month paying a multimillion-dollar settlement to those workers.
Signs saying “LME is closed for business” are now posted on the doors of most LME loading docks. The company website on Thursday afternoon alerted customers: “Effective immediately LME will no longer be accepting any pickups.”
Calls to the company’s headquarters Thursday and Friday were not answered, and attempts to reach owners were unsuccessful. LME has listed its customers as including behemoths such as 3M, Toro, Bobcat, John Deere and Osram Sylvania. Some affected workers said they are being contacted by customers concerned about the status of their freight.
LME trucker Tom Mason was told late Thursday to turn his 26-foot truck around and go home after he had driven to LME’s Sioux Falls terminal to pick up a delivery.
Friday morning came more bad news.
Mason’s LME’s weekly paycheck of $830 was not automatically deposited into his bank account as it was supposed to be. Mason said LME owes him close to $3,000 for regular and overtime work done during the past three weeks.
“I feel sick to my stomach. How am I going to make my rent?” Mason asked. “My brother, who is a dock worker, is owed about $2,400. LME should have learned their lesson after they pulled this … two years ago.”
LME sales representative Greg Savino said he was driving to make a sales call at 2 p.m. Thursday when an LME vice president “who is my boss called me and said, ‘I have bad news. We are closing the doors.’ Basically, they locked the doors and locked everybody out. After all my years in sales and management, I am unemployed and looking for a job.
“Everything seemed to be good, so this is quite shocking,” Savino said.
LME’s abrupt shutdown comes just one month after LME LLC began paying a $1.25 million settlement to nearly 90 union workers in Minnesota who were abruptly locked out of work and laid off in November 2016 from Lakeville Motor Express in Roseville. Should any of the new monthly payments to affected workers be missed, the penalty will double what LME must pay workers to $2.4 million, according to the agreement LME signed with the National Labor Relations Board.
In the 2016 case, affected workers had filed complaints that Lakeville Motor Express only pretended to close. They said it essentially continued to operate as LME, but with cheaper, nonunion labor. The state of Minnesota and the National Labor Relations Board ruled against the trucking firm, which operates in about five Midwestern states with roughly 600 workers.
While the NLRB ruling resulted in one settlement agreement, there are still unresolved lawsuits demanding millions from Lakeville Motor/LME for allegedly violating pension obligations.
With respect to this week’s shutdown, affected workers said they wondered if the pension obligations were somehow tied to LME’s surprise closing Thursday.
James Honerman, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI), said state officials fielded calls Friday and are looking to learn more about LME’s latest shutdown and whether any labor laws were again violated.
The state sued LME, Lakeville Motor Express and an affiliated Finish Line Express in January 2017 over Lakeville Motor Express’ abrupt closing in 2016 that left 95 union members unemployed and unpaid.
It remains to be seen if the state would take similar action this time against LME. Honerman said, “DLI will assess the [new] situation and determine what is the appropriate action for our agency to take if wages were not paid to these employees.”
As the state and laid-off workers race to figure out their next move, so too are trucking customers.
Redline Logistics Inc. in St. Paul regularly hires LME and other trucking companies to haul customers’ freight to different locations in the Midwest.
As of Thursday, LME had four of its shipments. Three of them will soon be taken care of by LME partners. The fourth shipment, however, is sitting on a dock of the trucking firm Finish Line Express and needs “authorization from someone at LME in authority to release the freight to another carrier. Hopefully that will be today or tomorrow,” said Lloyd Keller, Redline’s logistics sales vice president.
“I can’t imagine,” he said, “how much other freight is sitting on LME docks and trucks in the Midwest. My experience in carriers shutting down abruptly is that it could be days to weeks before that freight can be recovered.”