Star of Sears ad laid off af­ter 36 years

Mike My­ers’ brother, who ap­peared in 2014 promo, didn’t re­ceive sev­er­ance

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - FRANCINE KOPUN TORONTO —

It took less than one minute for nearly half of Sears Canada’s head of­fice em­ploy­ees in Toronto to be let go be­fore they were shown the door at a meet­ing at the down­town Metro Con­ven­tion Cen­tre on June 22.

Peter My­ers, 59, a se­nior di­rec­tor of plan­ning at Sears Canada, was sit­ting in the front row. In 2014, My­ers starred in an amus­ing com­mer­cial with his brother, co­me­dian Mike My­ers, which has logged more than 1.8 mil­lion views on You Tube in English and in French.

In the ad, Mike pep­pers his older brother with ques­tions about ru­mours that Sears Canada is clos­ing. Peter re­as­sures Mike that that’s not hap­pen­ing.

“We’re not go­ing any­where. You of all peo­ple should know not to be­lieve ev­ery­thing you read in the pa­pers,” Peter tells Mike.

Three years later, Peter was in a con­fer­ence room with col­leagues be­ing told by a Sears of­fi­cial that they were be­ing laid off be­cause Sears was re­struc­tur­ing.

That same morn­ing in a down­town court­house, Sears Canada ob­tained tem­po­rary pro­tec­tion from cred­i­tors un­der the Com­pa­nies’ Cred­i­tors Ar­range­ment Act (CCAA), al­low­ing IT to close 59 stores and let go 2,900 em­ploy­ees with­out pay­ing sev­er­ance, as part of an ef­fort to keep at least part of the chain in busi­ness.

At the same time, at a meet­ing at the Fair­mont Royal York Ho­tel on Front Street, hun­dreds of Sears Canada em­ploy­ees were be­ing told they still had jobs.

At the con­ven­tion cen­tre, fol­low­ing the brief an­nounce­ment by a Sears spokesper­son, the com­pany’s em­ployee as­sis­tance pro­gram (EAP) rep­re­sen­ta­tive made a few con­sol­ing re­marks and pointed to the exit doors, rec­om­mend­ing that the em­ploy­ees take ad­van­tage of taxi chits be­ing of­fered to get them home. “It’s a rough day,” he said. The em­ploy­ees were not told in the meet­ing that they would not be get­ting sev­er­ance. They learned that when they opened in­for­ma­tion pack­ages they were told to pick up on their way out of the room.

All told that morn­ing, 500 of the 1,185 peo­ple who worked at Sears Canada’s head of­fice in Toronto were let go.

Later they learned that Sears Canada was also plan­ning to seek ap­proval from the court to stop top­ping up a deficit in the pen­sion plan, of which My­ers is a mem­ber, and to stop pay­ing pen­sion ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing dental and health ben­e­fits.

In court on Thurs­day, Sears re­versed that stance, agree­ing to keep pay­ing the deficit and the ben­e­fits un­til the end of Septem­ber in or­der to avoid a le­gal chal­lenge from lawyers rep­re­sent­ing em­ploy­ees.

The sev­er­ance is­sue was not re­solved.

On­tario Pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne told re­porters at Queen’s Park on Thurs­day that at this point, the Min­istry of Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment is “pay­ing very close at­ten­tion to what’s hap­pen­ing,” and that “we are very con­cerned when a large num­ber of peo­ple like this are at risk of los­ing not only their jobs, but their fu­ture se­cu­rity.”

At this point in the process, there is no real role for the prov­ince in the Sears sit­u­a­tion, Wynne said. But as the econ­omy trans­forms, she added, work­ers are be­ing dis­placed and the gov­ern­ment needs to do what it can to sup­port fam­i­lies.

“When I hear the (Sears) sto­ries re­ported and I read about them, my first thought is for those fam­i­lies whose jobs are on the line,” said Wynne.

“My hope would be that the peo­ple who have given many of the good years of their life, that they are treated well in a sit­u­a­tion like this.”

The pro­vin­cial NDP tabled a non-bind­ing mo­tion in May 2016 call­ing for bet­ter pen­sion pro­tec­tion for work­ers at com­pa­nies go­ing through re­struc­tur­ing and bank­ruptcy, said Cather­ine Fife, NDP MPP for Kitch­ener-Water­loo.

It was sup­ported by the Wynne Lib­er­als and the Con­ser­va­tive party un­der Pa­trick Brown.

“Un­for­tu­nately the pre­mier did not act on this and we have an­other com­pany giv­ing cred­i­tors pri­or­ity over the em­ploy­ees that built the com­pany,” said Fife, adding that the NDP will con­tinue to raise the is­sue at Queen’s Park.

“It’s time to put em­ploy­ees first.”

YOUTUBE/SEARS CANADA, TORONTO STAR

Peter My­ers, right, as se­nior di­rec­tor of plan­ning at Sears Canada, ap­peared in a TV ad with his brother, Mike My­ers.

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