Workers receive back pay

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

For Phyllis Fenn, Chris Edstrom and 19 other former Alex Transportation workers, it was a moment of triumph, amidst a sea of letdowns.

The group received about $86,000 in back wages on Wednesday, officials said.

According to Fenn and others, problems with their employer began about six months ago when their paychecks began to bounce. Then, Burlington Northern Santa Fe terminated its contract with Alex Transportation, and the workers, who drove BNSF personnel to and from work sites, were laid off, but did not receive their last paychecks from the Arizona-based company, nor back wages from bounced checks.

The workers said they received little help from federal labor departments.

Restitution arrived Wednesday, after former Alex Transportation manager Phyllis Fenn pleaded for help at the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office.

The district’s Worthless Check Division director, Craig Limmer, said he called Alex Transportation owner Curtis Balducci on Tuesday and left a message. By Wednesday morning, Chris Edstrom had a money order for $733 dollars in his hand, the exact amount of the paycheck he said bounced. Limmer said 20 other ex-Alex workers were issued money orders, too.

“When (Fenn) came to our office, she was at her wit’s end. I called and left (Balducci) a message. He did the Monty Python routine, but I told him he had until Friday at noon to have his (Clovis debts) paid in full. If not, I told him there would be a warrant issued, he would be arrested, and I would bring him back to beautiful Clovis,” Limmer said.

“We don’t like our neighbors being taken advantage of,” he said.

Limmer said the company issued $86,000 in money orders to former Clovis employees. “It made us feel really good. I had tears in my eyes — they had tried everything with no help,” Limmer said.

Edstrom said he and others still have not received their last week’s pay.

But he isn’t complaining.

“Hey, to get half of what I am owed is way beyond what I ever expected,” Edstrom said, on his way out the door to cash his money order. “Obviously, if someone hadn’t stepped up to the plate we never would have gotten any money.”

Fenn, the former office manager of the Clovis Alex Transportation branch, said she felt a responsibility to help the men and women who worked under her, some of whom she had managed for more than eight years.

“I knew they were good employees. I hated to see them being done this way. But I was ready to give up,” Fenn said.

“(Limmer) lit the fire and got the ball rolling. I really appreciate it,” she said.

Balducci did not return several calls seeking comment.