Shutt helps union workers in nine-year battle for vacation pay

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – Nekki Shutt has helped 29 union plumbers and pipefitters from Aiken win their day in court in the latest round of a protracted nine-year battle to collect the workers’ vacation pay.

“This is a complicated case involving dozens of parties,” said Shutt, a Certified Specialist in Labor and Employment Law. “At the heart of it, though, the issue is simple. Should these workers be paid the vacation money they earned and trusted their employer to hold or should their employer’s banks get the money?”

While another court still will have to decide that answer, Shutt said, at least the workers now will have a chance to be heard. The South Carolina Court of Appeals has reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment against the workers and ordered the case sent back to circuit court for trial.

The case stems from employees’ work erecting a three-story tissue machine at the Kimberly Clark plant in Beech Island, South Carolina. The general contractor, C.R. Meyer and Sons Co., contracted Custom Mechanical LLC for industrial piping for the plant.

Custom Mechanical, in turn, provided all labor directly or through its wholly owned subsidiary Custom Industrial Services LLC. The Custom companies took out a loan to finance their work.

Dispute over vacation funds

Custom gave employees the option to have a percentage of their wages withheld from each paycheck, so that employees could save for summer vacation and Christmas. But when C.R. Meyer suspended Custom work at the Kimberly Clark plant, Custom went out of business without paying employees their withheld vacation fund wages.

The dispute between C.R. Meyer and Custom eventually wound up in arbitration, with a settlement in which C.R. Meyer agreed to deposit $1.8 million into their lawyer’s trust account. The money  would be held while a court determined creditors’ priorities.

Two banks claimed that they had priority over the laborers. The trial judge agreed and issued a summary judgment. The employees with Shutt and attorney John Nichols as appellate co-counsel disagreed and took the case to the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Last week, the Court of Appeals ruled that the summary judgement should not have been issued. The appeals court reversed the trial court and sent the case back to circuit court for trial.

“This has been a long battle that’s not over yet,” said Shutt. “But at least now the workers will get their day in court.”

A founding partner of Burnette Shutt & McDaniel, Shutt represents clients in a range of employment issues including discrimination and wrongful termination. She also assists with employee group benefits issues under ERISA.