The word “family” is often overused when it comes to work and business. Whether it’s a company proclaiming how it has a “family culture” in the media or a new study showing just how common it is for us to end up spending as much time with coworkers as with our own families, the word appears over and over. It can lose its meaning, its luster, it’s importance.
Yet in speaking to both the employees and management at Allingham Corporation, the word comes up again and again, in different contexts and not just as a buzzword. It is said sincerely and with examples. It is used to explain the company history and to tell the stories of how different employees came to work for them. It is used to describe their relationship with Operating Engineers 324 and the commitment they have to their customers, each other, and their own families.
Dispatcher Robert McKiddie explains that family was how he got his start. His stepfather Mark Seikel was an employee at Allingham and 23 years ago Robert joined him, first as an oiler on a Manitowoc 2900 at the Ford Rouge facility. Robert spent the first few years as an oiler and then almost two decades as a crane operator on truck cranes and boom trucks. Now it’s Robert’s son who is hoping to become an Operating Engineer and join the family tradition next year.
The concept of family was with Allingham from the start, explains President Jeff Allingham. The company was originally founded in the 1940’s, and Jeff’s grandfather Clifton worked there as CFO when he purchased the company (and changed the name) in the 1970’s. Soon after he was joined by his son (Jeff’s father) Larry, who took over the company in 1999. Of Larry Allingham’s four children, three have followed him into the family business, including Jeff.
Allingham currently has over 150 cranes and air compressors in their fleet and are the largest privately owned company in the United States that specializes only in the rental of cranes and air compressors. They have over 20 OE324 members and apprentices operating cranes and compressors, fixing and maintaining them as technicians, and dispatching out of a 15,000 sq. ft. service facility and 2,000 sq. ft. parts department in Southfield.
Jeff explains that the spirit of family and partnership defines the company’s hiring as well as it’s relationship with Operating Engineers 324. Since Allingham became a signatory contractor with OE324 in the early 80’s (they had previously been aligned with a different union), Jeff explains that the relationship has been fantastic.
“Our relationship with (OE324) has been great. It means we’re guaranteed to have competent operators,” explains Jeff. “I can’t imagine not being union, because the training and safety is so intense in this world and the union helps us with all of that.”
“It’s always been important to my grandfather, my dad and myself to maintain the relationship we have with the union. And it’s been reciprocal – the union has been great. Whenever I hear from friends the bad stories or whatever about unions, I have to say ‘we just don’t have those – for us it’s been great.’”
Allingham currently partners with Operating Engineers 324 to find H&P apprentices and looks forward to working together to find technician apprentices in the future.
Michael Blackburn is an Operating Engineers 324 Technician for Allingham. Michael started at the same time as Robert, working as a truck driver and a painter before moving to the mechanic side 7 years ago.
“I always liked working on stuff, since I was a kid,” explains Michael. “I like the challenge – everyday something is different, and you get to figure out new problems.”
Michael often works out in the field, diagnosing and fixing problems all over the state and Ohio. “Sometimes it’s fixing something and sometimes it’s preventative maintenance. It’s about keeping the customer running and happy.”
“This is a great place to work,” he explains. “There’s good people.”
Michael’s father worked at Allingham as well, and as a kid Michael spent time at the shop. “I knew it was something I wanted to do and just had to wait to be old enough to come in. The union has treated me well too.”
McKiddle emphasizes that sentiment. “The (OE324) training is phenomenal, and all of the other benefits of being a member, like the wages, the insurance, and having a pension instead of a 401k, those all make it a great career.”
He credits Brian Newsom and Frank Poupore as helping “brought me up” when he was learning. He also mentions Bobby Hickman and Tim Chapman as being leaders at Allingham.
The company has been part of some of the biggest projects in the region, including the construction of Comerica Park, Ford Field and Little Caesars Arena. They’ve done work at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor and are currently working at the Ford construction at the Michigan Central Train Station, helping restore the landmark to glory. Projects in seven states – as far south as Kentucky and as far east as Syracuse in New York State – have expanded the area they can cover.
They all mention the fun of being part of films shot in Detroit like Transformers, Real Steel and Batman Vs. Superman, where they rubbed elbows with actor Ben Affleck. They also have constructed stages for large concerts including Bon Jovi and the Rolling Stones at Comerica Park.
“They had these huge towers on stage,” Robert says of the Stones concert, “where people could pay to watch the show from.”
He laughs. “If they had the money, I guess!”
The family atmosphere at Allingham Corporation is not just a word – it is who they are, from ownership and management to employees, many of whom count multiple generations and decades of employment. It shows in their work, and the way work together, and with their union.
“We’ve been blessed,” says owner Larry Allingham. “We’ve been able to have folks recommend working here and we’ve never really had to go out and look. We want people who work here to feel invested in what we do and who we are.
“It’s our livelihood, and they (employees) are my other family. It’s what gives me purpose.”