State accuses trucking firm of 'wage theft' after suddenly laying off 95 workers

The shut-down of a freight company in Roseville has turned ugly, with the state of Minnesota accusing it continuing to operate under a different name, but without unionized workers.

A trucking company that laid off 95 workers just before Thanksgiving but is claimed to still be operating under a different name is being investigated by state officials.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith on Tuesday accused Lakeville Motor Express of "wage theft." She announced the company will be the subject of a probe by the state labor department after it laid off workers without warning last month, saying it didn't have money to pay wages or vendors.

"Right before Thanksgiving, over 90 Minnesotans working for Lakeville Motor Express found out the company was closing its doors, and they wouldn't be getting their final paycheck," Smith said. "This is called wage theft, and it's the same thing as stealing. These families earned their wages fair and square, it’s wrong not to pay them, and we won't tolerate it."

Her office claims the company continues to trade "with the same management and trucks" under a different name, Finish Line Express (FLE) in Maple Grove.

GoMN called FLE and a spokesman said they are "completely separate" from Lakeville Motor Express. He did, however, concede that some former Lakeville Motor managers are now working in Maple Grove, "but not all of them."

He said the Lakeville trucks seen at the Maple Grove site "did not belong to Lakeville Motor Express," though didn't clarify who does own them, before accusing Lt. Gov. Smith of making claims "without doing any research."

"We are being dragged through the mud," he said, adding: "She is completely out of line."

Workers devastated just before the holidays

Truck drivers and dock workers arrived at Lakeville Motor Express in Roseville on Nov. 19 to find it padlocked, with the company sending a letter to the local Teamsters saying it was ceasing operations due to "heavy financial losses."

"Lakeville is out of cash and has no reserves to pay any amounts owed to employees or vendors at this time," the letter said, according to Teamsters Local 120.

A few days later, members of the Teamsters began picketing Finish Line Express in Maple Grove.

"Thanksgiving wasn't very fun at all."

Teamsters business agent Virgil Christoffersen told the Star Tribune: "The freight is still there. The trucks are still there. And the customers are still there. All they did was change the logo on the trucks."

The newspaper reports FLE was incorporated in May of this year and went into business shortly after. It has 17 trucks, according to vice-president Mike Sanford, who told the Star Tribune his company had nothing to do with Lakeville Motor Express closing.

Speaking to KSTP, Teamsters 120 Secretary-Treasuer Bill Wedebrand claims the company shut down and effectively became Finish Line Express because its alleged sister company doesn't have a union.

"It's harsh. We've been just struggling to figure out how we're going to make the house payment in December, and obviously right before the holidays, Christmas, and Thanksgiving wasn't very fun at all," former employee Shane Thompson told the TV station at a protest last Thursday.

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