‘Horrific’ shutdown of GR trucking firm costs 90 jobs, say workers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids trucking company owned and operated by a name well-known in the industry has abruptly shut down, according to frustrated truckers who worked for Sunset Logistics.

“It was just very demoralizing the way (the owner) did it. He put ninety drivers out of work with no warning,” lamented Eric Miller, who said he’d driven for the Grand Rapids-based company for two years.  

Miller told Target 8 Sunset Logistics has not issued final paychecks nor reimbursed workers for funds the company held in escrow.  

Online records show the business on Clay Avenue Southwest employed ninety people and was run by Harvey Gainey III, who’s known as Buddy.

Buddy is the son of the late Harvey Gainey Senior, who was at the helm of trucking giant Gainey Corporation when it filed for bankruptcy in 2008.

According to the state’s online database of business entities, Buddy Gainey incorporated Sunset Logistics in 2010.

“I was in shock,” recalled Eric Miller, referring to his reaction to the shutdown. “I get a phone call in Lincoln, Nebraska, saying that Sunset is closing their doors with no warning.”

It was Monday, Sept. 25, 2023, and Miller said he’d just delivered a load to Nebraska on behalf of the Grand Rapids-based trucking firm when a fellow driver called him with the news.

“I live in Tampa,” Miller said, explaining his frustration. “To abandon us. To not give us a way home. We have all our stuff in the truck. What do we do? He left us out on the street. It’s horrific. He needs to be held accountable or be a man and take care of business.”

Miller said Gainey should have warned employees and made sure to cover their final checks. 

“It would have been fine if he would have paid us and let us know two weeks prior that, ‘Look, we’re having issues with the economy, things are slow. We’re giving you a heads up. Look for another job.’” 

Multiple drivers reached out to Target 8 to express their disappointment over how the shutdown was handled.

They, too, reported they are still owed final paychecks, as well as the $1,000 Sunset kept from each driver’s pay to hold in escrow, a common practice in the trucking industry.

The escrowed funds protect the firm in case a driver walks away and leaves equipment or loads stranded. But in this case, truckers said they were the ones left stranded.

“What Buddy Gainey did was atrocious,” said David Whetstone, a Texas-based trucker who started driving for Sunset Logistics six months ago. “This kind of thing just doesn’t happen in trucking. Companies shut down, but they do it the right way, especially large companies like this one.”

Kevin Baker, another Sunset driver based in Texas, told Target 8 he figures the firm owes him around $3,000, including his escrowed funds.

“I was kind of depending on that money to help me and the family,” said Baker in a Zoom interview with Target 8.

On Wednesday, the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity confirmed to Target 8 that Sunset Logistics, along with another trucking company named Excel Trucking that went out of service Sept. 26, were under investigation for wage claims.

Federal records show Sunset had 90 divers. Companies with more than 50 workers are required to file Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notifications with the state, but Michigan’s online WARN database does not show a letter from Sunset.

Buddy Gainey did not respond to multiple requests from Target 8 for comment, and the building on Clay Avenue was locked up Friday and Monday. There were a couple cars parked near one of the doors, but no one answered our knocks.

Ten office staff, based at the Grand Rapids headquarters, were reportedly the first to learn of the closure in an afternoon meeting Monday Sept. 25. Word then spread among drivers.

Employees shared emails with Target 8 that Gainey reportedly sent to workers regarding the shutdown.

“It is with extreme sadness that Sunset is closing its doors,” Gainey allegedly wrote in an email dated Sept. 27. “The economy has been horrid, freight has been slow and rates have been in the toilet. Combine that with the fact that all of our costs have continued to rise, from fuel to driver wages to truck prices, tires, and on and on. I have personally invested over $850,000 into the company since March to keep it going but I no longer have the ability to fund the business. I am so sorry to all of our hard working, dedicated drivers. I am devastated for my employees, customers and vendors.”

In another email dated Oct. 5, Gainey reportedly wrote that he wants to pay everyone their final paycheck and escrow.

“The bank has seized our account and I have no control over paying anyone, including myself. That being said I am working with my lawyer to try to get the bank to release the funds necessary to pay the last check and escrow.”

According to online records, Buddy Gainey’s home in Kent County was listed for sale Oct. 4. The 6,700 square foot, lakefront home is listed for $1,990,000.

Federal court records showed no recent bankruptcy filings connected to Buddy Gainey, Sunset Logistics or Titan Transportation Services, Inc., the firm’s legal name.

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