How Banks and Politicians Let One Company Come Back from the Dead to Keep Abusing Workers
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In her own report, the receiver noted that, unbeknownst to her at the time, the same week that the bank rejected the family’s offer, “Trinity had approached the W&K [Steel] workforce and asked them to sign W-4s, in preparation for their being hired by Trinity to complete [W & K’s] bonded contracts.”
In other words: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
On paper, Trinity is a new company with a new owner. W and K’s sibling company, W & K Erection, has similarly been replaced by American Erection, a company formed in 2009 by Celeste Wilhelm. But evidence casts doubt on just how new Trinity and American Erection are. In her report, the receiver wrote that she “believes that there are issues surrounding the transfer of assets from W&KE to American and W&KS to Trinity, should the Trustee wish to investigate further.” For example: “The Receiver is not aware of any consideration that was paid to W&KE or W&KS for the transfer of assets (e.g., employees, customer lists, contracts).”
When he heard the news that the Wilhelm family was back at work, under a new name, Hand says, “My reaction was, once again, he got over the system.”
Hand notes that both Stojanovic and Celeste Wilhelm were in key positions at W & K during the abuses he witnessed; he says he raised them in meetings with Celeste Wilhelm in her role as human resources head. But Hand, and the union, believe Edward Wilhelm is still the key decision-maker in the reconstituted companies. “He hasn’t suffered a bit,” says Hand. “He just opens up the doors the next day under a different name and continues working.” A call Wednesday to the main phone number listed on W & K’s (now defunct) website was answered by a receptionist for Trinity Steel, who said that Celeste would return the request for comment. She hasn’t.
Trinity is already getting new government work. In an April 17, 2012 filing, the Massaro Corporation lists American Erection among the sub-contractors to be used on new construction in the Preston County school district in neighboring West Virginia. Asked about Massaro’s use of Trinity, the communications director for the state education department e-mailed that the county had followed state law in its bidding process, and Massaro “was the lowest responsible bidder.” She said that the county superintendent had since been “appraised of the allegations concerning Trinity,” contacted Massaro about them, and received a letter back “assuring him of the viability of Trinity Steel.”
Massaro has used - and vouched for - W & K in the past. According to Hand, he and staff from the Iron Workers got Massaro’s owner to meet with them about W & K early in the strike. After the meeting, Hand says Massaro called him by phone and said, “Ed’s a great guy to work with. I sent my safety guy in and check things and everything's fine. This is a whole bunch of bull. It’s over with. Drop it. And keep the union hacks out of my office.” (Massaro did not respond to a request for comment.)
Rink says that despite bankruptcies, labor abuses, and half a million dollars in unpaid taxes, Massaro continues sub-contracting with the Wilhelm family because they know “it’s cheap, and that’s what construction’s all about.” Hand says that Massaro’s use of Trinity shows that’s something wrong with the standards used by government agencies to determine who’s “a reputable contractor.”
So Wilhelm’s family appears to have picked up where they left off: same building, same workers, same clients. The Iron Workers allege that Wilhelm is using his old equipment too. When it was put up at public auction as collateral for W & K’s loans to Huntington, says Rink, “He had other people there at the auction that purchased the equipment, and it’s all there back at the plant.” Rink says it’s been spotted at the plant and on job sites. Some large equipment like cranes, he says, appears to have been auctioned back to straw buyers working for Wilhelm without ever having been removed from the plant in the first place.