Sears' hardship fund being financed by chairman's retention bonus
Sears Canada’s planned hardship fund for recently-dismissed employees will come out of the pocket of one of the retailer’s top executives.
Susan Ursel, the lawyer representing terminated Sears Canada workers, told BNN the fund is being financed by up to $500,000 that executive chairman Brandon Stranzl would have otherwise received in retention bonus pay.
“I think that’s the kind of leadership that my committee was looking for in circumstances like this,” Ursel, a senior partner with Ursel Phillips Fellows Hopkinson told BNN in an interview on Wednesday. “And we applaud that kind of demonstration of leadership and concern.”
Stranzl announced he is stepping down from his post in a memo to staff, saying he wants to bid for Sears or some of the company's assets.
Sears Canada confirmed the financing plan to BNN.
The company, its former employees and a court monitor reached a deal to create the hardship fund on Tuesday after workers were denied severance payments when they lost their jobs at the retailer.
The $500,000 fund has been criticized by some observers as “trivial” and “cosmetic,” but Ursel said the money is not intended to replace other forms of compensation.
“[The hardship fund] is not a substitute for termination and severance pay,” she said. “Those issues remain under negotiation and discussion with the company. This fund is designed to alleviate urgent hardship.”
Employees meeting pre-determined hardship criteria may receive up to eight weeks of wages, up to a ceiling of $1,200 per week, in monthly instalments. Additional amounts in cases of emergencies could be approved for up to $2,500.
Ursel also said the fact that the fund will be financed from planned executive bonuses will be especially encouraging to the dismissed employees.
“It would be fair to say that the employees have been expressing concerns about the retention bonuses from the beginning. We raised that issue in court.”
Sears Canada announced in June that it would close 59 Canadian locations across the country and cut approximately 2,900 jobs, without severance. The company was criticized when $9.2 million in retention bonuses for key employees were subsequently approved by the Ontario Superior Court.
- with files from BNN's Paige Ellis