'They lied to me': Nearly 600 people out of work as Sydney, N.S., call centre closes
ServiCom declared bankruptcy Thursday, owing workers 3 weeks worth of pay
Nearly 600 people lost their jobs in Sydney, N.S., on Thursday after call centre ServiCom declared bankruptcy and closed — a decision denounced as "a cowardly act," with Christmas less than three weeks away.
ServiCom manager Todd Riley said as of Wednesday night, there had been a tentative deal in place with a new owner.
"Unfortunately, it broke down today," Riley said Thursday.
Employees gathered outside the call centre in the afternoon after ServiCom executives broke the news. The company has operated in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality for the past 19 years, employing 700 people during peak periods.
About 80 per cent of those employees were full-time, Riley said.
Justin Boutilier, who has worked at ServiCom for 14½ years, says workers are owed about three weeks of pay.
"They got an extra three weeks work out of everyone and now everything goes to bankruptcy. That's $1,500 I'm not going to get — I owe Eastlink, power. No one's going to get EI before Christmas. It's tough, I got two kids."
About six police officers were also at the 90 Inglis St. site.
"People were going to be mad, but the cops were here before we had the meeting. People knew about this. They stretched every last minute ... out of us," Boutilier said.
He said a number of families may have to turn to social assistance to survive.
The company's financial woes were evident in August when workers' paycheques were late three times in a row.
"It's disgusting. How are you supposed to take care of your family? It's just not fair," sobbed Dianna Brewster who was employed at the call centre for the past 15 months.
Riley called the current owner's decision to close the call centre so close to Christmas "a cowardly act."
"They lied to me. In turn, I had to work with 700 people — to go in day in and day out, to keep people on the phones and encouraging them that things were going to get better. I am very, very disappointed in the leadership. A lot of people have to go without pays before Christmas."
He said ServiCom had previously been "extremely profitable" with gross profits of $500,000 to $600,000 per month.
Hope for new buyer
Riley said he is still holding out hope the call centre will be sold and resume operating.
The potential buyer, an American citizen, "is a very solid and reputable businessman" who intends to continue to pursue the purchase, he said.
"And I am going to work my darnedest to get this deal done within the next five to 10 business days so we can get people back employed," said Riley.
In the meantime, Riley said he and the payroll department will work to streamline employment insurance applications for those who've lost their jobs.
"I pray for everybody during this time. It's going to be hard," Riley said, choking back tears.
With files from CBC Cape Breton