Goodwill is temporarily closing 16 stores, 10 donation centres and 2 offices in southern Ontario due to a "cash flow crisis," according to a statement from Keiko Nakamura, chief executive officer of Goodwill Toronto, Eastern, Central and Northern Ontario.
The closures affect 450 unionized employees, many of whom showed up to work early Sunday morning to find that they were locked out without any explanation from management.
Locations in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia and Brockville are closed until management can meet with representatives of the Canadian Airport Workers Union, which represents the employees.
"Due to a number of factors affecting the retail environment, Goodwill is facing a cash flow crisis," the statement from Nakamura said, adding that it is a "fluid situation and Goodwill is exploring a variety of options."
"Goodwill will be reaching out to the union, stakeholders and all levels of governments to bring clarity as soon as possible."
The organization receives an annual subsidy from the federal and provincial governments totalling $4 million.
Future of stores unclear
A meeting between Nakamura and union representatives is scheduled for Sunday evening. According to union lawyer Denis Ellickson, a previously scheduled meeting had been abruptly cancelled and management had refused to disclose what the original meeting was to be about.
Goodwill said it will will be releasing a statement detailing the outcome of the early negotiations tomorrow afternoon.
Ellickson told CBC News that employees were provided no information in advance of the lockout — which he says is illegal because a required 30-day closure notice was not issued.
"We don't know if the stores are closed permanently. We don't know whether they'll be seeking creditor protection or seeking bankruptcy," he said.
"There is a number of remedies the board could take with an illegal lockout, including having the stores reopened as well as employees appropriately compensated."
Ellickson provided CBC News with the 2014 financial statements for locations affected by the lockout. They collectively brought in about $28 million.
Goodwill's Ottawa outlet closed just before the end of 2015 after management said it had become unprofitable. In that case, however, the organization gave employees the required 30 to 60 days notice.
Donations piling up
Nakamura has a long history in the non-profit sector, having been fired as the Toronto Housing CEO in 2011, after the 13-member board was dissolved.
Her dismissal and the board's dissolution followed a city auditor's report that questioned staff spending and how the agency issued tenders for contracts.
Piles of donations began to collect outside Goodwill locations throughout the GTA Sunday. Employees told CBC News they were blindsided by the lockout.
A crudely printed sign in the Richmond Street East storefront in Toronto said simply that the store was closed "due to unforeseen circumstances."
One employee who identified herself only as Laura said that usually the store's manager arrives first to unlock it, but when they showed up for work today no one was there.
"It would have been nice if someone came to us and said that we're not going to be open today," she said. "We've just been watching people drop stuff off and we're telling them, 'Sorry, we're closed and we don't know why'."