'Devastating news': Union says Rona employees had no idea stores were closing

An official from the union representing Rona employees says she was shocked at the "insensitive and disrespectful" way workers were let go.

Union asking workers not to sign anything

Rona told its employees that stores in Newfoundland will close Jan. 27, 2019. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Workers at Rona stores in Newfoundland were blindsided Sunday night when management told them stores were closing in January and they'd all be losing their jobs, says an official representing their union. 

"This was a shock, a terrible shock and bad timing — two months before Christmas," said Debbie Romero, executive secretary treasurer of the Atlantic Canada Regional Council of Carpenters, Millwrights and Allied Workers, which represents workers at six Rona stores in Newfoundland. 

In total, 321 employees will be affected in Newfoundland, a media relations spokesperson for the company confirmed Monday afternoon.

Some Rona employees found out they were losing their jobs at hastily called meetings Sunday night. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

On Sunday, Rona employees were called to meetings and told stores in Newfoundland would be closing Jan. 27, 2019. The employees were given no warning what the meetings were about, and were handed severance letters when they arrived, she said. 

The union is asking Rona workers to hold off on signing any paperwork.

"We weren't very pleased with the way the message was delivered and we're going to be doing everything we can to ensure that the rights of those employees [are represented] to the fullest," she told The St. John's Morning Show on Monday morning.

She said the news shocked the union just as much as it shocked the workers.

"We just heard there was going to be a meeting at 6 p.m. and that it was mandatory," she said.

The company is closing six stores on the island — in Conception Bay South and Bay Roberts, as well as St. John's locations on Topsail Road, O'Leary Avenue and Torbay Road and in Goulds.

Eric Fitzpatrick, owner of the Rona store in Wabush, Labrador, said his business is unaffected by the decision because it is independent.

The Rona store in Fortune will also stay open, according to manager Harold Stone, who says the store is privately owned.

"I'm just using the Rona name, the Rona banners," he said. "But I'm not owned by Lowe's."

He says he's heard nothing from Lowe's indicating he'll have to take down or replace any of his signs or branding.

Some employees at the affected Rona stores have been working there for decades, Romero said, and some are husband-and-wife teams, meaning the stores closures will wipe out incomes for entire households and families.

"It's devastating news and we were not expecting this at all."

Income wiped out for entire households

Some longtime employees began working at the stores when they were owned by Chester Dawe Ltd., a Newfoundland-based company. Rona purchased Chester Dawe in 2006. 

In 2016, U.S. home improvement chain Lowe's bought Rona, then headquartered in Quebec, in a deal valued at $3.2 billion.

Romero said a management team from Lowe's delivered the bad news on Sunday.

She said workers were given no indication of why the company was closing the stores, and the union has requested immediate meetings with Lowe's to discuss the decision and the rights of employees.

"We're going to ensure that their rights are fully adhered to."

In a press release, Lowe's said it was shutting down "certain underperforming store locations as part of its ongoing strategic reassessment."

It said the company plans to focus on its most profitable stores, and will close 20 stores across the U.S. and 31 Canadian stores and other locations.

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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