SHOW LOW — Six weeks after a federal judge abruptly ordered the dealerships owned by Tate’s Auto closed, former employees still haven’t been paid.
That’s what a former sales manager for the Winslow location of Tate’s Auto told the Independent.
Robert Ortiz is married with a five year-old and a one year-old and a mobile home he purchased on contract. Like everyone else, he has bills to pay and he is falling behind. Like every other Tate’s employee, the last time he received a paycheck was in April.
“I didn’t pay him last month, and I can’t pay him this month. It’s just not good for building trust. I’ve been stalling, I hope he doesn’t kick our family out,” Ortiz said of his purchase contract on his mobile home.
Ortiz, like several other employees across the four dealerships — Show Low, Winslow, Holbrook and Gallup — came into work even after the dealership was shut down, because there was work to do for the customers. He also had to call some customers and ask them to return vehicles they had purchased, because he knew the paperwork would never be completed.
“I hope they get their down payment back,” he said.
But Ortiz’ loyalty to the company and to the customers has earned him nothing. The family has been surviving on his wife’s income, but it’s not enough to pay all the bills. And good paying jobs, like the one he had at Tate’s, are hard to find in small towns.
“I’ve been going out everyday, looking for a job,” he said.
Last weekend he got some good news. He was hired on part time at a restaurant, making minimum wage. He said that will help the family catch up on their house payments while he continues to look for a better job. He said he had an interview with a dealership in Flagstaff which sounded promising.
For about 100 former employees who have been hanging on, hoping that somehow they will be paid, have experienced frustration, anger and fear.
Now resignation is settling in.
At this point, Ortiz said he doesn’t think he will get paid at all.
Tate’s employees were awaiting the outcome of a hearing in federal court that was held on May 22, hoping that an agreement could be hammered out that day that would allow them to be paid.
That didn’t happen.
At a status hearing on May 22, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, before judge Brenda M. Whinery, four attorneys appeared in person — three from Ford Motor Credit and one from Nissan Motor Acceptance Corporation. They faced off with one attorney for Tate’s Auto Center of Gallup who appeared in person and one that appeared by video.
Also attending the hearing was a representative of the Arizona Department of Revenue, who appeared by video. Five other attorneys representing Fiat Chrysler and Nissan Motor Credit appeared by with video or telephone. A representative of the Navajo Human Rights Commission also attended.
Former owner and general manager Rick Berry did not attend, and the judge questioned his absecence.
Attorney for Tate’s, Nancy March, provided a status update. According to the court’s minute entry concerning the hearing, March told the court that $160,000 was needed to pay of employees for the period of April 16-25.
“The debtors would like to pay an employee to sort out the issues,” the court’s minute entry states.
Steve Jerome, attorney for Ford Motor Credit, objected to the payment, saying that his client objects “because the debtors (Tate’s) are seeking to benefit … without ever complying with the obligations.” He stated that the payment would potentially cause a shortfall, considering the amount of money in the debtor’s accounts. Additionally, Jerome said that “Ford does not have sufficient detail and objects to the payments,” according to the minute entry.
Oddly, March said she did not have any details concerning payroll, either.
Judge Whinery ordered the hearing be continued to June 5, and asked that payroll and state transaction tax info be filed the with court. She also instructed the parties to work together to solve the problems.
Ortiz said he is trying to keep the stress of the situation away from his family, but that hasn’t been easy. Somehow he manages to sound upbeat in conversation, but his voice falters when he talks about his son’s recent birthday party. He could only buy him one present and a modest birthday party with a few pizzas they got by scraping up the last few dollars available to them.
“You feel bad because you want to give him so much more … I feel like I let my family down,” he said.