Employees at the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics in Atwater say they were waiting Monday to receive their paychecks from last week, and that the reason for the delay was President Donald Trump.
Some 50 employees at the school were first notified of the delay Jan. 23, when the company’s human resources department sent out a letter saying the issue was out of its control.
“Relations between China and Trump seem tense at the moment,” Joshua Daniel, the human resources coordinator, said in the letter, “but we are hopeful that a mutually beneficial resolution will be reached soon.”
The academy specializes in training commercial pilots from Asia, such as from China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
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A Chinese policy requires renewing economic and regulatory procedures with each new presidential administration, Daniel told the Sun-Star. With the new Trump administration, there was “a more stringent due process,” he said.
In the letter to employees, Daniel said the company’s CEO made arrangements for another payment method for the delayed checks and future checks.
Daniel said in an email Saturday that the checks were on their way via the U.S. Postal Service.
The message said the company was “at the mercy of the U.S. Postal System” and that “Monday should be the latest day when we can expect to receive our paychecks.”
As of the Sun-Star’s deadline Monday afternoon, employees said they had yet to be paid.
The school, located at Castle Commerce Center, has about 100 students and employs about 50 people
Though a handful of employees reported plans to quit after the delayed paychecks, many employees expressed their commitment to the flight students and company CEO John Yoon.
“I’m here for the students,” said Mike Nawrocki, the student services and instructor coordinator. “I’m not going to let anything happen to them.”
We have a choice to leave. The students don’t. I’m not going to abandon them.
Mike Nawrocki, student services and instructor coordinator at Sierra Academy of Aeronautics
Gary Odle, a maintenance supervisor who has worked at the academy since 2003, defended Yoon and noted the company is still trying to overcome problems related to a former business partnership.
“John cares so much for people,” Odle said. “He’s a good, Christian man.”
In a statement to the Sun-Star, Yoon said he’s trusting in God to correct the situation.
“I have faith that God is in control and whatever results will be part of his purpose for us,” he said. “When Donald Trump was sworn into office, he placed his hand on the Christian Bible. That is a reminder to us to keep faith and be patient in the plans of God.”
The flight school previously was co-owned by Yoon and his business partner, 66-year-old Daniel Yoon. The two are not related.
In January 2016, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office charged Daniel Yoon with two counts of falsification of corporate records and two counts of forgery, both felony offenses. Daniel Yoon was arrested Jan. 27 and accused of signing the name of his business partner on documents and a loan application.
The former business partners engaged in a legal battle in a civil case in which Daniel Yoon was accused of trying to seize control of the flight school while John Yoon recovered from injuries suffered in a 2013 motorcycle crash.
Daniel Yoon agreed to step down as CEO in exchange for John Yoon to drop the civil case, said Joshua Daniel, the human resources coordinator.
But that didn’t happen until after a federal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service was initiated. A special agent with the Treasury Department declined to elaborate on the IRS probe at the time.
Joshua Daniel said employees who stood up to Daniel Yoon or reported his wrongdoing were fired as retaliation. The civil suit also cited a pregnancy discrimination claim and allegations of labor code violations. Many of the fired employees were rehired by John Yoon.
Daniel Yoon’s criminal case will go to a jury trial in March, Deputy District Attorney Walter Wall said. The trial previously was continued because Yoon has called two handwriting expert witnesses, he said.
Daniel Yoon’s attorney, C. Logan McKechnie, declined to comment on any of the allegations or the case.
Though the company still faces challenges from its previous leadership, the employees remain committed to John Yoon and bettering the company, Daniel said.
“It seems like we’re facing one hurdle after the next,” Daniel said. “We’re fighting for our jobs here to keep the company alive.”
Despite not receiving their paychecks, most employees have continued to work, he said.
Their new boss and the students, Daniel said, are what keep employees motivated. Yoon has a good reputation in the aviation world and many of the students attend the school hoping to elevate their families’ economic status, he said. Families have pooled their resources to send many of the students to the school as well.
“I’m committed to the company and John Yoon,” Nawrocki said. “I’m not going to let this stop what I do.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477