‘The end of Sears’ should send a warning to every worker and Canadian: beware predatory companies and states that put profits before people.
Sears wasn’t just an ordinary business going bankrupt. It was a Canadian institution that we all grew up with, and we all knew well. Every kid remembers skimming the pages of the ‘Sears Christmas Wishbook’, or heading in with their parents to get an oil change for their car or a new couch for their house.
Now, Sears has collapsed. It’s a textbook case of corporate greed that continues to hurt families and workers to this day. 18,000 Sears retirees that paid into the company’s pension fund for decades are having their health and other benefits cut, and their pensions reduced by up to 30%. Seniors are being forced back to work, or they face poverty. Why?
According to court filings, prior to declaring bankruptcy the board of Sears authorized $2.9 billion in special dividends to be paid to shareholders. This included CEO Eddie Lampert, who was also board chair and Sears’s largest investor. Hmmm.
In 2013, the company paid out a special $509 million shareholder dividend, despite the fact that its pension fund was underfunded by $133 million and was running a $188 million operating loss. Hmmmmm.
“You give your life to a company and then in the end you get shafted.” This is how one Sears pensioner described it, when after 44 years of work at Sears, his health benefits were lost and his pension reduced by 30%. At age 73, he likely has to return to work to make ends meet. “Who the hell’s going to hire a 73-year-old guy?” he said. “I can only stay on my feet for so many hours. I have arthritis.”
CEO Lampert named his new $100 million yacht ‘The Fountainhead’, after author Ayn Rand, whose work praised ‘the virtue of selfishness.’ Hmmmmmm.
This type of greed hurts Canadians, families, and communities. It’s what gives business a bad name. It’s what exposes the timidity of governments that are afraid to fight corporations to defend ordinary working people and their pensions.
Yet some do fight against this greed and theft. I was recently visited in Cambridge by Hamilton Mountain MP Scott Duvall, the NDP’s pension critic. His job is to fight for workers that have had their pensions stolen by companies and executives. He put forth Bill C-384, “An Act to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (pension plans and group insurance programs).” In short: companies have to pay their workers’ benefits and their pension plans BEFORE giving themselves giant megabonuses and securing other creditors.
MP Duvall and I travelled to the empty Sears in Cambridge, and had a discussion about what it means for a government to protect workers and families. We talked about trust, protection, and reciprocity.
We talked afterwards with Kelly Dick of the Waterloo Regional Labour Council about the need to be strong in the face of corporate and greed. When the strategy of status-quo powers is to divide and distract, we must come together as a community — this is ‘The Power of Many.’
As MP Duvall has described it in the House of Commons, “While in opposition, the Liberals vowed to change bankruptcy laws to protect workers. But since then the Liberal government has done nothing to help workers except apparently monitor the situation, leaving workers at companies like Sears, U.S. Steel, Stelco, Algoma steel, Wabush Mines, and Cliff Mines reeling.”
This is a toxic mix of corporate greed and theft.
It’s what puts workers behind, and makes Canadians feel angry, disillusioned with our social and economic system. It’s what makes people feel hopeless in the face of issues and problems that appear so large, they don’t want to fight them anymore, so they turn away.
As MP, I’ll fight for Bills like C-384. For workers, pensioners, and Canadians that have followed the rules and given their working lives to a system that they trusted, and should now protect them and their families as was promised.
We won’t get to new places by following old paths. Cambridge, Canada… Let’s be good to one another.