Disappearance of Sears severance 'a shock to the system'

Maria Tomlinson ended her 33-year career at Sears with the promise of a 66-week severance package, but the company cut the program, leaving her short thousands of dollars.

Maria Tomlinson says she'll lose nearly $6,000 with retailer's move to cut severance program

Sears, a longtime anchor of the McAllister Place mall in east Saint John, will close, along with another Sears department store in Bathurst. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

Maria Tomlinson worked for 33 years at Sears Canada. She finished her career on May 21, 2016, when Moncton's Sears Home Store closed.

Tomlinson was told she'd get 66 weeks severance pay for her years of service.

But, she recently realized, the cheque isn't in the mail.

"When I contacted them, I got a message back yesterday saying that the severance program was stopped."

"It was kind of a shock to the system."

In June, the department store chain announced it would close 59 stores as part of a court-supervised restructuring. Department stores in Saint John and Bathurst are slated for closure.

In total and 2,900 staff will be laid off. When those workers lose their jobs, they won't receive severance or any extended medical and dental benefits.

Moncton and Fredericton locations are not among the 20 full-time Sears locations across the country that will be shut down. 

Even with her loss, Tomlinson considers herself lucky. She could see trouble on the horizon when her store closed, so she removed her pension money and took a buyout for her benefits, a move she's grateful for today.

"The people that are leaving now didn't have that advantage."

Tomlinson said Sears employees she is talking with are concerned about their pensions.

"You work your whole life thinking, 'I'm not going to have to worry about my retirement because I have a good pension,' and for this to happen. 

"It's hard."

The company has 16,000 retirees that could be affected by a court hearing scheduled for next week,  when the company will request permission to halt both its retiree benefit payments along with special payments it has made for some time to top up the underfunded pension fund.

Sears Canada told CBC News that how retiree benefits and pensions will be affected has not been determined.

But regardless of the hearing's outcome, Tomlinson said the sudden loss of income has left her scrambling.

"We had plans for the summer," she said. "I think some of those plans will have to be put on the backburner until we get  more information on our financial future.

Tomlinson had expected to look for a part-time job, but her return to the job market is happening sooner than she planned.

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.