Star of Sears ad laid off after 36 years
Mike Myers’ brother, who appeared in 2014 promo, didn’t receive severance
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.”
Peter Myers, right, as senior director of planning at Sears Canada, appeared in a TV ad with his brother, Mike Myers.