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Altus firm leaves its employees out in cold

Lawton-Constitution, December 16, 2008
Zeke Campfield

ALTUS - Brandi Boley said she knew she was taking a risk when she took a job in the purchasing department at Quartz Mountain Aerospace, the airplane manufacturing company formerly known as Luscombe.

So when layoffs were announced for 97 Altus employees on Nov. 4, Boley - who had her first child in September- was not too surprised. The company had a history of ups and downs, and the recession was kicking the newly reinvigorated QMA in the teeth. What did surprise Boley, however, was the letter that came in the mail from the insurance company six weeks later, claiming that her premiums had not been paid since July and her insurance had been canceled.

"I feel betrayed," she said, holding her new son, Kash, in her arms while piles of insurance documents and pay stubs litter the kitchen counters. Boley said she and her husband, Kevin, have racked up more than $1,000 in insurance bills since Kash's birth, and not one of them is covered. There's the $450 owed to the hospital for the Sept. 7 birth, $183 owed to the dentist for cleaning services provided on Sept. 24, $434 owed to the hospital for x-ray services on Nov. 11, and $45 owed to the hospital for immunizations for Kash the same day.

At the same time, documents show Boley - who worked for QMA since September, 2006 - had $65 worth of medical and dental insurance premiums withheld from each of her QMA paychecks up until the layoffs were announced.

"They told us our insurance was good until the first of December," Boley said. "They should have told us our insurance hadn't got paid since July, so if at all possible don't go to the doctor."

Instead, she said, the company left her in debt, broke and unemployed during Christmas.

"I understand about the economy, and yeah, everybody's having a hard time, but I think if (QMA CEO Mark Arciero) would have done it a little bit different it would be OK," she said. "I mean, had we known this, Kevin wouldn't have gotten his teeth cleaned." To make matters worse, Boley and a number of other laidoff employees at QMA claim they have not gotten a paycheck since the middle of October, a full two weeks before they were laid off.

"We've just been lied to so many times," she said. "All we want is our money, and quite frankly I'd rather my insurance be paid than get a paycheck." Tracy Thomason, vice president of marketing and business development for QMA, said he could not comment on Boley's particular allegations, but agreed that times are rough for the company and there are many employees who have not been paid.

In fact, Thomason said, the "skeleton crew" that is operating at QMA right now is doing it all without pay.

"We're not stopping, we're not shutting doors - this is just a cutback," he said. "We have every intention of bringing this company back to full swing."

On Monday, a representative for the Oklahoma Department of Labor confirmed a dozen laid-off employees at QMA have filed to collect lost wages. Ray Andrews, director of the Employment Standards Division for the state Department of Labor, said once an Agency Order of Determination is filed against the company it has 20 days to appeal.

Otherwise, he said, the state will order the company to pay its employees within 50 days and be assessed a daily 2 percent increase in money owed per day.

Andrews said these kinds of situations happen occasionally, but that the timing of this particular incident is especially bad.

"It's tough enough not to get paid for labor that you've worked, but with the holiday coming on it's even worse, not only on the employee but on their family as well," he said.

Things seemed to be looking very good for QMA up until this fall.

Last year the company brought in a new CEO, Mark Arciero, and in June QMA received a production certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The company also got support in the form of tax incentives and loans from the state and the City of Altus in the name of creating jobs. QMA was approved for a $1.5 million loan from the Altus Municipal Trust Authority earlier this year for the construction of a paint booth, and has gotten another $420,000 in loans from the city just since September.

But an economic downturn - and delays in a $120 million bond package that was expected to be released in September - turned things sour quickly. Thomason said QMA has sold or leased 10 of its airplanes to flight instruction schools and has another 50 planes that could be sold in the next year. He said once the company gets the bond money, it will be able to pay off its debts, pay back its employees and get production going again so the planes can be built and sold.

"If things go the way everybody is promising ... then all of this will be resolved by the middle of January," he said. "The thing that will save the company is sales of the aircraft."

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