Workers allege malfeasance

Chris Edstrom talks about the troubles he had with his former employer, Arizona-based Alex Transportation, with his checks bouncing Tuesday at his home in Clovis. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

The troubles with his former employer started about two months ago when his payroll check bounced.

Working for Arizona-based Alex Transportation, Chris Edstrom said he continued to taxi Burlington Northern Santa Fe workers back and forth to job sites while corporate officers promised him his pay and extra vacation time.

The money still hasn’t arrived.

About 300 Alex Transportation employees — including 21 in Clovis — have been laid off or quit because they weren’t getting paid by the company, according to the Arizona Daily Sun newspaper of Flagstaff.

“(The worst part) is the sense of betrayal. We did our bit to the best of our ability and then we didn’t get paid,” Edstrom said. “And no one seems to care. … I don’t think I will ever truly trust another company again.”

Edstrom, 45, said Alex Transportation hasn’t paid him for about 190 hours of work, which amounts to more than $1,500.

Other Clovis employees, however, had been having problems for much longer, some for as long as six months, workers said.

Curtis Balducci, chief executive officer of Alex Transportation, did not return calls seeking comment.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokeswoman Lena Kent said the railroad’s contract with Alex Transportation was terminated in late August due “to service issues,” which she refused to discuss in detail. BNSF now contracts with another taxi service, Renzenberger, Inc.

Edstrom said he got a job with Renzenberger, along with about 12 other ex-Alex drivers. But others, including Katherine Welch, were left out in the cold. She said she drove for Alex Transportation for eight years and made $8.25 an hour.

Welch, a mother of three, was laid off along with Edstrom and 19 other Alex workers at the time of the BNSF service transfer. She is still searching for a job. Her husband also worked for the company, but found employment elsewhere.

Welch, a diabetic, said she could not afford to buy the medicine she needed to control her blood sugar levels for a month after the layoff.

“I had to borrow money from my dad just so I could put groceries on the table. (My son) just didn’t understand. He kept saying ‘Mom, you should be able to get food.’

“That was my livelihood. I’ve got to be able to take care of my family,” said Welch, who now relies on food stamps and an unemployment check to make ends meet.

Though their efforts have not produced valid paychecks, Welch, Edstrom and others said they have talked to attorneys and sought help with the Arizona and the New Mexico departments of labor.

Orlando Macias, director of the Arizona State Labor Department, said six Arizona resident complaints concerning Alex Transportation were filed in his office, but his department cannot handle complaints from outside the state, he said.

“If we find wages are due, then we (give the company) 35 days to pay or we issue an appeal through the courts,” Macias said.

It has not yet been determined whether the Arizona claims are valid, he said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is investigating claims against Alex Transportation made by New Mexico residents, according to Bruce Bachelor, director of the Labor and Industrial Division of the New Mexico Department of Labor.

However, Bachelor and Deanne Amaden, a regional spokesperson for the U.S Department of Labor, said ongoing cases cannot be discussed.

Meanwhile, the former manager of the Clovis Alex Transportation station, Phyllis Fenn, is desperately searching for some way to receive the $4,000 she says the company owes her.

She said she worked 48 hours per week, but was never correctly paid for her overtime hours; she said two of her paychecks bounced. Labor departments and expensive lawyers have not been much help, she said.

“Nobody wants to actually deal with this,” Fenn said.