Locked-out Goodwill workers wake up without paycheques

Erick Arana still can’t figure out how to tell his children that he lost his job when Goodwill locked its Toronto-area stores this weekend.

Why a Toronto dad dreads picking his kids up from school today

After seven years as a part-time donation handler for Goodwill, the company gave Erick Arana less than 24 hours notice not to come to work. (Jon Castell/CBC)

Erick Arana still can't figure out how to tell his children that he lost his job when Goodwill locked its Toronto-area stores last weekend.

UPDATE: Goodwill announced at around 8 a.m. Friday that employees will be paid by the end of the day. 

At 24 years old, the father of a six-year-old and two-year-old studies part-time at George Brown College so he can pay for his classes as he goes. His wife, and high school sweetheart, is a full-time student.

His position as a donation handler at Goodwill was one of his two part-time jobs, and his main source of income. Without it, the math isn't good.

He makes about $15,000 a year.

He has roughly $1,500 in the bank.

His rent, which is due at the beginning of the month, is $900.

Meanwhile there are groceries, bandages and bus tokens to buy.

Thursday night, Arana's mother phoned and offered him the sum total of the Shoppers Drug Mart points she had saved up, worth $100. Telling the story, he sheds a tear.

Cash-flow crisis

"It's rough," he said.

"I have a savings account for my kids and I've got to call them when I get home and say 'you guys can't take the money this month.' Because how am I going to save money when I don't have money to put groceries on the table?"

Erick Arana, 24, and son Justin walk home from school in Toronto Thursday. (Jon Castell/CBC)

His story was hard to get because, like most of the 550 workers sent home by these closures, he's hard to find. Most live paycheque to paycheque, can't afford landlines, and aren't topping up their pay-as-you-go cellphones until they know what's next.

"I don't think people know or understand how difficult it is for these workers," said Denis Ellickson, the lawyer representing their union.

"They're expecting a paycheque on Friday, and it doesn't look like that is going to happen."

Goodwill Industries of Toronto suddenly closed 16 retail stores and 10 donation centres last weekend. The company shuttered facilities in Toronto, Mississauga, Brockville and Barrie, citing a "cash-flow crisis."

The closure comes in the wake of a labour dispute between the company and the Canadian Airport Workers Union (CAWU), which represents Goodwill workers. In 2014, Goodwill said it couldn't afford full staff during the winter months.

The union agreed to reducing work hours, but balked when management trimmed full-time employees first. An arbitrator sided with the union and ordered the company to pay up to $150,000 in restitution. The two sides were scheduled to return to talks to solve the conflict in June.

A broken dream

Arana's father followed a dream from Ecuador to Canada. But to the average Canadian, what followed doesn't sound very dream-like: a family of five sharing a two-bedroom apartment in Parkdale, and parents who worked long hours for little pay.

When Arana was 10, someone was shot and killed right in front of their building. When he was 11, he and his sisters saved their allowance for months to buy a Playstation 2 — to them, it was an unbelievable luxury.  

What he remembers most, though, is not the sting of taunts from the children at school for not wearing the right clothes, or the fear he felt walking in his neighbourhood at night.

"Money was always tight when we were growing up; we had to do chores to get money. And we were never really handed anything," he said.

"I'd really like to know why I've been working so hard, and it's all just been taken away from me overnight."

What he does know is he will likely not have a paycheque in the bank when he goes to pick up his children from school today.

And he's certain he will swallow his worry and try to smile as they hold hands walking home.

Ticking clock

Under the collective agreement, employees are entitled to 30 to 60 days notice of a permanent closure.

Keiko Nakamura, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Toronto, Eastern, Central and Northern Ontario, said she will keep her job, even after the board resigned. Union membership widely criticized her for staying on, because of her comparatively high salary.

Bags of donations have piled up at the Goodwill drop-off centre at Richmond and George Streets in Toronto. (Cheryl Krawchuk/CBC)

Ontario's "Sunshine List" reported she made $227,774 in 2014. While her employees called for her resignation, she promised an update on payroll arrangements Monday.

Meanwhile, workers have received no notice of termination, no information about severance pay, and no records of employment - which they would typically need to apply for Employment Insurance.

Ellickson called the situation an illegal lockout, and said his members have grounds to file a grievance.

Union members have until Tuesday, the last day of a seven-day deadline under the collective agreement, to decide whether to do that.

But he said that's a last resort.

Like Arana, what the workers really want is to go back to work.


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