Goodwill employees need assistance getting on with their lives

Most Goodwill employees live paycheck to paycheck, making little more than minimum wage.
Most Goodwill employees live paycheck to paycheck, making little more than minimum wage. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By now much of the country is aware that Goodwill stores in Toronto were shut down without notice, putting over 430 employees on the street.

Goodwill is an important part of helping struggling communities. Not only does the organization provide people with access to affordable goods but they also give work to people who have difficulties finding employment.

Well, that is no longer the case, as Goodwill Toronto shut down 16 stores, 10 donation centres and two offices. These stores and centres were closed down effective Sunday, January 17, 2016.

When employees arrived to work the next morning, they were shocked to discover closed doors. Apparently, the closing down of the stores and donation centres are due to a “cash flow crisis.”

Employees received no warning that the stores would close, which put them in a bad situation and left them in legal limbo, because though they have been shut-out of the stores, there has been no clarification as to the status of the layoffs. They have not been informed whether they have been laid off or terminated and neither have they received their record of employment, which effectively bars them from applying for employment insurance benefits.

Though Goodwill Industries Toronto CEO Keiko Nakamura has just made the announcement that employees will be paid for hours worked “up to and including January 16, 2016”, that is little consolation to people who will have no paychecks coming in after today.

Most Goodwill employees live paycheck to paycheck, making little more than minimum wage, and in some cases, their paycheck supports their entire family.

Toronto employment lawyer Hugh Christie told the Globe and Mail that workers can sue the company’s directors for back pay. This also includes vacation pay. However, if directors have resigned they cannot be held accountable for work done after the date of resignation. In addition, directors are not responsible for payments if proper notice hasn’t been given, or severance pay.

Given that Goodwill shut down very suddenly, and the fact it’s been announced they will receive their pay, it is unlikely that employees would sue the directors.

Then there is also the issue that under Goodwill’s collective bargaining agreement, the company is to give employees a minimum of 30 to 60 days, which obviously didn’t happen. While employees can file a grievance with their union against the company, that takes time, time which many of the employees don’t have.

There is no question that there needs to be an investigation into what happened to cause this disaster, especially due to the abrupt resignation of the entire board, which is odd in and of itself.

However, our immediate concern should lie with the employees. The first step should be to immediately see if the stores can be re-opened either with the help of financial backers, such as an investor or the government. This is something that the Canadian Airport Workers Union, which represents the employees, is exploring. However, if that is not going to happen that they should be immediately provided with their record of employment so they can apply for employment benefits as soon as possible.

Either way, what happened here is unacceptable and Goodwill should be shown to help employees left out in the cold.

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