MINOT, N.D. - Bakken oilfield workers who are still owed wages after their employer abruptly went out of business in 2015 began receiving some compensation Monday, Jan. 16, thanks to an anonymous donor.
More than 40 former employees of WCE Oil Field Services will receive checks for a portion of the wages they are owed through a donation secured by the Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota.
"It means a lot for me and my family," said Amado Enrique de Leon, one of 20 people who collected checks at an event on Monday in Minot. "It's nice to see somebody did this for us."
Fargo-based WCE Oil Field Services, which did pipeline projects and oil-related construction and maintenance work, went out of business in 2015, leaving employees without payment for their final weeks of work.
At least 42 former WCE workers who submitted claims are owed more than $750,000 in wages, penalties and interest, the union said. It was one of the largest claims against a single employer the North Dakota Department of Labor has handled, former Labor Commissioner Troy Seibel said last year.
Because it appeared unlikely that the workers would ever receive those wages, the union solicited donations from the oil industry.
The former WCE workers are now receiving checks between $3,000 to $20,000, depending on how large their claims were, from an undisclosed donation tied to North Dakota's oil and pipeline industry. The donation covers about one-third of the wage claims that the union is aware of, spokesman Kevin Pranis said.
Funds also will be set aside to reimburse medical expenses incurred by a worker with cancer who was left uninsured when the company went out of business.
About half of the workers continue to live and work in North Dakota, including many who struggled with the loss of the paycheck that coincided with the slowdown in the oil industry.
De Leon, a construction inspector who lives in Minot with his wife and two kids, said he plans to use his check to catch up on bills.
"I want to give them the best. That's the reason we're here," de Leon said.
Ricardo Salgado received word around Christmas that he and his co-workers would be receiving some long-awaited compensation.
"It's a great gift for our family," Salgado said. "I've got to do something really, really special. We work so hard."
Some of the funds will go toward the estate of Jammie Petras, a pipeline superintendent for WCE who died in a vehicle crash in December 2015. His father, Andy Petras of Surrey, said the funds will help pay for higher education for Jammie's children.
"This is just amazing that this union does this kind of stuff and that a donor would donate whatever they can," Andy Petras said. "Whatever they donate helps every family involved."
The WCE employees were not union members, but Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota President Todd Pufahl said the organization's mission covers protecting the welfare of all construction laborers.
"Our union was founded on the belief that a fair day's work deserves a fair day's wage," Pufahl said in a statement. "When we learned that WCE workers were owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in back wages, we felt we had to try to make it right."