A union for janitorial workers at Langley Air Force Base says its members are owed four weeks of pay and benefits after a Richmond company walked away from its contract without making payroll.
The Transport Workers Union of America Local 525 has taken legal action to recover the money for its 32 members, but it won’t be a quick fix, President Kevin Smith said Tuesday.
“It takes a long time,” he said. “It’s not something that gets quickly remedied.”
The company, Bio Net Electric LLC, is dealing with unspecified legal actions and could not meet payroll, according to a letter from Robert L. Riddick Jr., and shared by employees. The company’s website lists Riddick as owner and manager. Multiple attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
The company won a contract in November 2016 for janitorial and cleaning services, said Jeff Hood, a Langley spokesman. With options, the agreement extended to October 2021. He said it was a “multi-million-dollar” award, but could not disclose the exact amount. The Defense Department publicizes awards of $7 million or more, but not lesser amounts.
Earlier this month, the company notified the Air Force that it wanted to leave the contract. Langley’s contracting office requested an immediate meeting, and the contract was terminated Sept. 15, Hood said.
Smith, whose union office is in Florida, said he was inundated with phone calls from shocked employees shocked. It was doubly traumatic because it happened as Hurricane Florence was approaching the East Coast.
“If you could only dive into my voice mail as all of that was unfolding,” he said.
The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, Smith said. It is also pursuing relief through the Department of Labor.
Riddick met with workers on Sept. 10 and said he’d pay them despite financial troubles, according to employee Latisa M. Moss of Portsmouth. She said the workers agreed to take him at his word.
Then on Sept. 13, Riddick sent a letter saying he could not meet payroll, referring to legal issues, and said Sept. 15 would be his last day. He did not meet again with employees because the base was closed due to the danger posed by Hurricane Florence.
The one piece of good news: Langley immediately brought in another vendor, who kept the 32 affected workers on the job.
Even though a steady paycheck is in their future, the workers won’t be paid again until early October, and their last paycheck was in August, Moss said.
The union has started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money for their expenses.
Moss said she’s scraping by in the meantime, as are others.
“Everybody had their mortgages and rent coming up,” she said. Because so many places closed due to the threat from Florence, “I couldn’t talk to anybody to explain what had happened to me.”
She credited her landlord with being lenient, but she’s still worried about meeting her electric bill and keeping gas in her car, so she can get to work.
“I was completely blindsided,” she said.
Moss has cleaned buildings at Langley for 14 years, working for different contractors.This is the first time something like this has happened to her.
Smith did a quick calculation and estimated the workers are owed about $100,000, but the exact amount remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Go Fund Me campaign had raised more than $4,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Here is Riddick’s Sept. 13th letter as shared on Facebook:
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working hard to get funding to cover payroll and my other expenses.
It didn’t happen.
I regret to inform you that I will not be able to make payroll. I’m currently dealing with some legal actions that have been filed against my company. I am currently seeking legal representation.
As you may be aware the base is closed, today and tomorrow, and I am unable to meet with the employee’s (sic).
I have informed our project manager of the situation. Saturday, September 15th is our last day and so we will not have an opportunity to meet with them.