Drivers and other workers for LME Inc. in Janesville said they are frustrated after they were laid off with no warning Thursday afternoon.
“It’s shellshock. You’re blindsided,” said Ed Burns, who has driven for LME for 13 years.
“We are in the dark. Nobody’s talking. That’s the worst thing you can do, keep us in the dark,” Burns said.
Some employees gathered near the LME freight terminal near the intersection of highways 51 and 11 on Friday to talk to reporters.
They said they were supposed to be paid Friday, but direct-deposit paychecks didn’t show up. Now they don’t know if they’ll ever be paid.
They get paid weekly, but paychecks were delayed by two weeks when they were hired, so they’re out three weeks of pay, they said.
The Roseville, Minnesota-based company shut down Thursday, laying off hundreds of workers at terminals across the Midwest.
“Until yesterday at 3 o’clock, everything was going along smooth. And all of a sudden, bam!” Burns said.
Logan Stevens, a dispatcher at the Janesville terminal, said he got a call from a manager at 2:30 p.m. Thursday telling him to cease all operations.
Employees were told to to stop work and leave, and that’s what they did, leaving trucks, trailers, forklifts and freight where it was, employees said.
Stevens said he asked the manager what was going on. He got no answers.
Now Stevens, who has worked for the company for six years, since he was 18, is looking for a job, “same as everybody else.”
Employees estimated 25 to 30 people worked for LME in Janesville.
“It’s been a good job,” Burns said. But now, “Everybody’s hoping to find another job with a competitive wage.”
That might mean relocating, which people don’t want to do because they would be leaving family and friends, Burns said.
“We’re a family here. I’m going to miss everybody here,” said driver Mary Washington. “We’re a good group of drivers. We work hard every day.”
Washington said she has received two offers already, and she expects other drivers will have little trouble finding new jobs.
“We are the cream of the crop. We give 110 percent,” she said.
Gail Graham of the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board said even if someone gets a new job right away, it will take days to complete the hiring process, so workers might need the unemployment benefits they qualify for.
Graham said some companies alert the state ahead of time, allowing her agency’s rapid-response services to be in place when layoffs happen. That happened with recent Shopko closings, she said, but not with LME.
Graham said she suspects laid-off truck drivers already are getting offers because many companies are desperate for drivers, but not all LME employees are drivers, she noted.
The LME website features a note to its customers that says in part: “We apologize for the inconvenience of the situation, but effective July 12, 2019, LME Inc. will no longer be making pickups or deliveries of freight due to unforeseen circumstances and have ceased operations.”
The note continues: “Our plan is to utilize an alternate carrier to assist in getting all freight delivered, and some staff are remaining to help with that. ...”
The company describes itself as family-owned with a workforce of more than 600 who operated over 1,200 tractors and trailers.
LME said its major accounts included 3M, John Deere, Osram Sylvania, Brake Parts and Toro.
The workers said the many trailers parked at the terminal are full of machine parts, paint and other goods.
“Things used to make stuff that you buy in the store,” Washington said.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that LME owners are affiliated with Lakeville Motors Express, which abruptly closed 2½ years ago, and that LME began paying a multimillion-dollar settlement to those workers last month.
Burns said he had no direct information about that situation, and he suspects LME’s shutdown is related to that.
Freightwaves News reported that Lakeville Motors Express was a union shop that shut down in 2016, and the National Labor Relations Board charged that LME was reopened by the same people as a nonunion business.
The board ruled earlier this year that LME had to pay $1.25 million in back wages, and if it didn’t meet a deadline, it would have to pay double that amount, Freightwaves reported.