Toronto Goodwill CEO Keiko Nakamura says the organization has had long-standing financial problems that she says led to the sudden closure last month of 16 stores and 10 donation centres in southern Ontario.
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"Our expenses were exceeding our revenues," she said Tuesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning show. "We were going through a difficult time. The organization has always had a form of cash-flow crisis. There has always been severe debt in this company."
In her first interview since the sudden closure of the stores due to what she said at the time was a "cash-flow crisis," Nakamura said she's working to find a way to revive the organization, which sells donated clothing and other goods at its stores to fund programs that help people with disabilities.
"For the last decade this organization has had the same problem, if we look at the financials going back," she said. "There were signs even then that this is an organization that was really suffering."
The closures happened on Saturday, Jan. 16. with little notice and threw some 450 unionized employees out of work at locations across southern Ontario.
Some workers showed up to work early Sunday morning to find that they were locked out without any explanation from management.
"The management team tried to respond as quickly as they could," Nakamura explained Tuesday. "We've had great challenges in being able to communicate with the employees, where we could explain to them what would happen."
Goodwill Toronto has since filed for bankruptcy. The organization's board has also resigned en masse and Goodwill International has de-affiliated itself with the Toronto organization.
Nakamura said she is currently working without pay to ensure displaced employees get the severance they're entitled to, a liability that's worth an estimated $4 million.
She also said she's not sure why the board decided to resign.
"It's not for me to understand why they chose that decision," she said. "I was disappointed that the board decided to go in that direction. This is an organization that continues to be resilient."
Nakamura says she won't resign
Former Goodwill workers and some employees have called for Nakamura to step down. She says she'll instead keep working to try and fix the organization's problems.
"At this time I'm the only one to carry this organization through and navigate these waters," she said. She also said that a public-relations firm hired during the crisis is working pro-bono.
Nakamura said all options for fixing Goodwill are "on the table," including permanently closing stores that aren't performing and seeking concessions from the unions and landlords.
"I will make every attempt to re-emerge," she said. "I'm trying to get as many people back to work as I can.
When asked if she was responsible for the debacle at Goodwill Toronto, she said: "Accountability does rest with me."
Previous to her role as the head of Goodwill Toronto, Nakamura was the CEO of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. She presided over TCH when a spending scandal broke in 2011. She was fired that year, and was hired by Goodwill Toronto a year later to be the CEO of Goodwill Toronto, Eastern, Central and Northern Ontario.
Union lawyer Denis Ellickson said news of the closure came "out of the blue" for employees.
"There's a large segment of these employees who are already disenfranchised, so finding re-employment is going to be devastating for them," he told CBC News.
He said Goodwill international has a "moral obligation" to step in and help the workers.
An employee line has been established for Goodwill employees cast out of work by the company's problems. The number is: 905-883-8715.