SYDNEY, N.S. — Former employees of a recently shut down Sydney call centre have been told there’s a good chance their jobs could be saved after all.
An estimated 400 of the more than 600 workers, who lost their jobs last Thursday when ServiCom unexpectedly closed its doors, turned out for an information meeting on Monday afternoon with facility manager Todd Riley at the Ashby legion.
Riley told the assembled former employees, many of whom are owed up to four weeks of wages, that they have not been forgotten. And, he pledged not to rest until the workers receive their outstanding pay and until a deal has been brokered that will see the call centre sold to new ownership.
The under-siege manager opened the meeting by expressing his disappointment and frustration with last week’s sudden closure that threw so many people out of work less than three weeks before Christmas.
“There is nothing more shameful than the way this business has gone out and has left all of us, all of us, in a very, very tumultuous situation — regardless of what time of year it’s much tougher at Christmas, no question, but to me it was very, very cowardly the way this has happened,” said Riley, whose words were greeted with a loud round of applause.
“It’s my job now to get this rectified with regards to getting people paid and to get this new transaction going.”
But before unveiling details about the new potential owner, Riley attempted to explain why the call centre, located at the rear of the Sydney Shopping Centre, was closed down.
He said the matter, now in the United States court system, revolves around the involvement of a third-party financial entity that somehow controls the flow of money within the organization. And, according to Riley, that third party, which he referred to as “The Factoring Group” has cost the company more than $10 million over the past eight years.
“The business went into a reverse cycle with The Factoring Group making money — it’s an unfortunate and dirty way of doing business — the Factoring Group has held us ransom in factoring our invoices since 2011,” he said.
- July 27 – ServiCom misses payday, company blames bank, workers get paid four days late
- Aug. 10 – Company misses another payday, workers express fear for facility closure
- Oct. 19 – Parent company JNET Communications files for bankruptcy protection in US court
- Oct. 26 – ServiCom misses another payday, employees offered $250 bonus to stay till Dec. 14
- Oct. 30 – Employees get pay 10 days late, paid by cheque, centre manager says “it’s been a tough go, but I think we’re over it now”
- Nov. 21 – Employees last receive pay
- Dec. 6 – ServiCom shuts down Sydney operation, more than 600 employees out of work
- Dec. 7 – Federal, provincial politicians, call centre manager, reps form ACOA and Service Canada hold emergency meeting in Sydney
- Dec. 10 – Call centre manager Todd Riley meets with an estimated 400+ former employees at Sydney legion and expresses hope that business may be saved
While it may not have been the clearest explanation of an extremely complex financial situation, the assembled former employees remained attentive as Riley expressed his optimism that it is only a matter of time until a deal is reached with a new owner, said to be an Iowa-based businessman who has been interested in acquiring the Sydney operation for some time. In fact, Riley said he thought an agreement was forthcoming — that is, until last Thursday’s announcement.”
“I actually learned about what was happening from a phone call I had with him,” he said.
“This guy is a cool cat, I really like the new guy — new ownership is key for us to be vital and viable in this community and this new business opportunity is huge.”
“The new business owner I spoke to has already contacted our clients and they are devastated,” said Riley, adding that the potential deal also has the support of ServiCom’s four major clients — GM’s OnStar, Sirius XM satellite radio, AT&T and Allstate Insurance.
“They know how valuable you guys are to their programs and to their portfolio — they were just shocked and very disappointed.”
The shocking closure and the subsequent proposed deal has also captured the attention of all three levels of government, all of which were represented at an emergency meeting Friday at the offices of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency in Sydney.
However, it appears that any potential deal will have to wait until ServiCom’s parent company’s bankruptcy (declared on Oct. 19) is settled. The outstanding wages owed to the former employees also hinges on the bankruptcy settlement, which is complex.
Riley explained that ServiCom is owed about $4 million USD, but that once collected the money goes first to The Factoring Group before it goes to the bank and the bankruptcy trustee who will then, theoretically, transfer the funds, including the payroll, to ServiCom.
“We’re putting a full court press today on our clients along with the courts to ensure this happens — I’m hoping to hear Tuesday or Wednesday about when we can get the payroll out,” he said.
While most of the former call centre employees applauded Riley’s fighting words, some expressed frustration.
“He said a lot, but I don’t think I learned too much new — I feel he ended the meeting too soon, lots of things weren’t explained,” said an employee, who was one of many who declined to divulge their names for fear of future reprimand or problems if the facility reopens.
She added: “It’s a great place to work because you become so close with the people you work with — we’re like family.”
Meanwhile, a transition team of provincial, federal and community partners will be hosting a series of information specifically for the affected ServiCom employees. The sessions will be held at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday at the Ashby legion. The agencies that will be there include the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services (re: employment support and income assistance), the provincial Department of Labour and Advanced Education, Service Nova Scotia (re: rebate programs), Service Canada (re: employment insurance) and Nova Scotia Works.
Additionally, the former ServiCom employees are encouraged to register with Nova Scotia Works for access to job search and learning opportunities as well as an option for a weekly living allowance that, depending on circumstances and certain criteria, is paid out to a maximum of $400 per week. In fact, provincial officials said it’s imperative that the former employees register with NS Works in order to access the available services. There are five Nova Scotia Works Centres in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, including two in Sydney and one in North Sydney, Glace Bay and New Waterford.