A Tennessee masonry contractor has filed for bankruptcy protection, but the bricklayers' union says the contractor owes more than $6 million to a union pension fund. While the contractor says the amount is the result of a mistake, the union says the contractor is obligated to pay.

The management of Nashville-based Wasco Inc. and its Columbia, Tenn., subsidiary, Lovell's Masonry Inc., insists its ongoing business is solid. In a January 8 press release, Wasco chief Executive Officer William A. Sneed Jr. says, "We are sound and profitable. Chapter 11 allows us protection as we continue to do business as usual."

Wasco and Lovell's filed for protection from creditors on Jan. 6 in Tennessee's Middle District Court.

A press release from the company implies that the Chapter 11 filing was triggered by an October judgment against the company by a Washington, D.C., federal court.

That lawsuit by a bricklayers'-union pension fund involves payments due from Wasco following the contractor's withdrawal from a plan agreement with Local 5 of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union. The pension fund is called the Bricklayers and Trowel Trades International Pension Fund.

Local 8 Southeast was formed in July 2013 by consolidating other locals across numerous states. Its purpose is to fend off non-union contractors that now dominate commercial and institutional masonry in the Southeast, according to a bricklayers'-union website.

Aileen Katcher, a spokeswoman representing Wasco, wrote in an email to ENR that Wasco and Lovell's had a 20-year contract relationship with the bricklayers union; however, the relationship ended in 2011. Although the bricklayers' union represents some of the masonry firms' workers in Tennessee, neither Wasco nor Lovell's currently has a contract with any union, she says.

Katcher declined to comment on what led Wasco to decline to renew its contract in 2011.

Sneed, who succeeded his father in the top job at Wasco in 2011, says in a statement that, regarding the firm's future, he "felt our only viable option, at this point, is to voluntarily file to restructure, giving us the benefit of placing a 'stay' or 'hold' on our ongoing litigation with the pension fund, allowing us time to work toward a solution."

The union sees things differently.

A written statement from Henry Kramer, bricklayers' international union secretary- treasurer, says the union represents more than 100 bricklayers at Wasco and Lovell's. While the Wasco press release refers to the withdrawal liability payments as "a penalty that was miscalculated," Kramer and the brick- layers' union claim the payments are "vested but unfunded obligations to their bricklayer-employees' pensions."

The pension fund tops the list of creditors in the Wasco bankruptcy filing. It describes a $4,531,300 contingent, unliquidated and disputed claim, while Lovell's separate filing cites a $1,014,345 claim.

In May 2013, pension-fund trustees filed suit in District of Columbia district court against Wasco and Lovell's for failing to make withdrawal liability payments under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) in December 2011. After an October judgment in its favor, the fund filed an updated statement of relief sought, requesting $1,481,096.

According to the fund plan agreement, Wasco owes a total withdrawal liability of $4,964,294 and Lovell's owes $1,179,483.

A meeting of creditors from each company is scheduled for Feb. 12.