Based in the Bronx, New York City’s Trident General Contracting is a low-key company that despite its name also works as a subcontractor. It has in the last year acquired a new owner, name and chief executive. And its origin story is significant for what it says about contractors and unions in New York City.
The company's operations survived what seemed like a knockout blow from the building trades about a year ago and is operating normally under its new owner and management.
Since its founding in 2013, Trident has built the foundations and concrete frames of high-rise buildings, all with a nonunion workforce. That alarmed the building trades, which went on the offensive with a lawsuit relating to the company’s connection to the owner of a union contractor.
Donal O’Sullivan, the owner of a major union contractor, Navillus, had ties to Trident under its former name and owner, Advanced Contracting Solutions (ACS). O’Sullivan had rights to purchase shares in ACS. Other connections included Navillus employees going to work for ACS, and ACS operating for a while from an apartment owned by O’Sullivan’s wife, Kathleen, according to court documents.
When five unions sued Navillus and ACS in 2014 for violating pension rules and collective bargaining agreements, and a judge ordered the companies to pay $75 million to the union pension and benefit funds in 2017, the building trades seemed to have scored a big victory—and sent a message to other contractors thinking of doing the same.
When Navillus then filed for bankruptcy protection, Navillus’ owner solved several problems at once. The bankruptcy filing relegated the unions to unsecured creditors. Last summer, Navillus agreed to pay the unions $26 million under a settlement reached via mediation. The judge presiding over the unions’ civil lawsuit vacated the original judgment, wiping it from the legal record. Navillus claims most of its bankruptcy creditors were paid in full, and the company emerged from bankruptcy in the fall.
Navillus steadfastly claims in a statement that it “never operated a non-union company and consistently disputes any allegations that they did.”
Trident’s founder, Eoin Moriarty, presided over the company’s early years, when it quickly grew into a thriving contractor with 450 employees and annual revenue of more than $100 million, according to court documents. “Our ownership and top-level management have all come over from the union concrete world and are dedicated to providing the same level of quality, safety, schedule and attention to our projects … if not more,” the company states in a promotional video that bills Trident as an innovator in New York’s open-shop concrete market.
With the judgment against it, ACS’s sources of cash were tied down. Its surety, Liberty Mutual, which also bonded Navillus, offered ACS loans to keep working.
When ACS’s owner and chief restructuring officer proposed that William Murphy and his company, Trident General Contracting, buy ACS’ assets, the five unions suing Navillus and ACS objected. But federal bankruptcy judge Sean Lane approved the sale, noting that the deal had been recommended by ACS’s chief restructuring officer after a legitimate search for higher bidders. And Murphy’s purchase met the standard for a fair deal. Although he was an acquaintance of O’Sullivan’s and the two shared one minor investment together, Murphy didn’t exist “in the shadow” of O’Sullivan, Lane ruled.
The $26 million purchase price for ACS—$4 million in cash and $21.9 in assumed liabilities—was somewhat higher than the company’s fair market valuation.
Since the original civil court ruling found that ACS was an alter ego of Navillus, much had changed, Lane wrote. In addition to new owners, Trident had its own office space, no longer had financial assistance from Navillus or its principals and maintained its own insurance policies.
The chief executive of Trident, Patrick Murphy, could not be reached for comment on his company or its sale.
In the end, Navillus pointed out through a representative, the court approved the transaction. It ruled that ACS was not an alter ego of Navillus, Trident was a good-faith purchaser and the transaction reflected sound business judgment.
The sub-headline and text of this story were amended Jan. 24 to reflect Navillus' statement that its bankruptcy filing was caused only by the unions freezing its bank accounts and that the original judgment agains the company was vacated.