PROTECT WORKERS, PENSIONS
Bankruptcy laws fall short, says MP
Pensions in Canada need better protection when companies go bankrupt, a town hall meeting heard Tuesday night.
About 200 people packed a room at the Ciociaro Club to discuss the issue at a meeting organized by local NDP MPs Tracey Ramsey (Essex), Brian Masse (Windsor West) and Cheryl Hardcastle (Windsor-Tecumseh).
The main speaker at the meeting was Hamilton Mountain NDP MP Scott Duvall, who has introduced a private member’s bill, Bill C-384, which would change how creditors are ranked under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act.
“What I’m asking them to do is to protect workers’ pensions, the workers and the pensioners, via the Bankruptcy Act, so that they don’t lose any more money as they have been doing for the last several years,” said Duvall.
“The companies are taking too much advantage of the situation, the law, and they do it because the law allows them to do it. And there’s no protection there for the workers.”
Larry Newman, 68, spent most of his working life at Sears, and is now fearful about his future as the company goes through the liquidation process.
“My concern is, first of all, on the 30th of September I lost all of my health benefits, my paid-up insurance policy and what other benefits there were, and now I’m concerned about losing my pension,” said Newman, who worked from 1972 to 1979 and 1980 to 2009 as an on-the-road salesman for Sears custom draperies and carpeting.
Newman lays much of the blame for the demise of Sears Canada at the feet of U.S. corporate CEO Ed Lampert.
“He sold the credit department for $2.5 billion, he didn’t reinvest the money, and at about the same time he cancelled profit-sharing to all the older employees because his reasoning was that all the employees were part time and they didn’t want to get into profit-sharing, so he stopped it,” said Newman.
Duvall said the Sears situation is just the most recent situation where pensioners are being deprived of the contributions they have made over the years, but because Sears has a national footprint, the issue is gaining attention from coast to coast.
“They (pensioners) are what they call a non-secured creditor, and my bill would actually make them a secured creditor, which would mean they would actually have to pay up deficiencies and any kind of liabilities to the fund. Before they start spending a lot of the moneys on other people,” said Duvall.
“It would bump them up and the reason for that is this is deferred wages. This is money we have been paying into, the workers have, we are saying to them you cannot take this away from us anymore. This is not your money.”
Duvall said he has been travelling across the country and getting a great deal of support for the bill, including from MPs of all political stripes.
Duvall said the only way to describe the actions of Sears is “ruthless.”
“They were paying out millions and millions and millions of dollars in dividends, when they were not making a profit,” said Duvall.
“Knowing that they had a pension deficit. And then they go and claim bankruptcy protection, which gives no protection to the workers, no severance pay, no termination pay, so basically they’re underfunded and now they are going to liquidate, and whatever is remaining in there, is there enough to fund that pension? I don’t know.”
Retirees attend a town hall meeting at the Ciociaro Club on Tuesday to discuss pension protection with local NDP MPs Tracey Ramsey (Essex), Cheryl Hardcastle (Windsor-Tecumseh) and Brian Masse (Windsor West).