United Air Comfort shuts down after union wins election

Workers at the Portland unit of United Air Comfort had so many grievances against their employer that when they got a chance last April to vote for Sheet Metal Workers Local 16 to represent them, all four of them voted to go union.

But an employer that was allegedly willing to break the law and pay less than minimum wage wasn’t about to follow the law and bargain a contract, says Local 16 organizer Willy Myers.

On Dec. 3, 2003, the company closed its doors, not just at its Portland location at 11925 NE Sumner, but at 33 of its 43 locations around the country, Myers said.

Myers speculates that the closures may have been an attempt to evade a class-action lawsuit, and predicts the owner will attempt to continue the business in some other form.

United Air Comfort also did business as United Restoration.

During its years of operation, the company accumulated numerous complaints from workers and customers, including alleged violations of tax laws and wage and hour laws, and alleged misleading advertising — the company would advertise low prices for duct cleaning or HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) installation, then attempt to add things to the sale at prices that varied widely.

Myers said workers reported that they received one day of training, and were led to try to take advantage of how little customers knew about heating and cooling systems. Workers were paid on commission based on how much they sold.

The union was able to find work in union shops for several of the laid- off workers, and others enrolled in the local’s apprenticeship training program.

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