SYDNEY, N.S. — Employees trickling out of ServiCom Thursday carrying crates of personal belongings stopped briefly to embrace co-workers in the parking lot, marking the saddest day yet for the beleaguered Sydney call centre.
It was possibly the final chapter in a story that began to take shape on Oct. 19 when the call centre’s parent company JNET Communications of New Jersey filed for bankruptcy protection.
A mid-afternoon announcement by ServiCom site director Todd Riley confirmed the worst-case scenario: the call centre was shutting down throwing about 600 people out of work 18 days before Christmas.
The news of the closure hit social media networks fast, forcing employees who work the night shift in early to find out if they still had a job.
The news was tough to absorb for some.
“We are just dumbfounded,” said one woman through tears.
“They told us it was not going to close and then this is what happens,” said another, embracing her friend and co-worker. Neither wanted to provide their names.
People started leaving the building, located at the rear of the Sydney Shopping Centre, just before 3 p.m. with all of their belongings in tow.
ServiCom site director Todd Riley blasted the company’s executive team for misleading him and all employees at the centre.
“Any time would be hard, but Christmastime? To me, it’s a very cowardly act. It’s something this business knew for a while it was going through and they lied,” he said.
“They lied to me and, in turn, I had to work with 700 people — to go in day in and day out to keep people on the phones encouraging them that things are going to get better.
“I am very, very disappointed in the leadership.”
For the last several weeks, due to the Chapter 11 filing in U.S. bankruptcy court in Connecticut, paycheques have been as much as five to six days behind schedule.
In a memo to staff in early November, Riley indicated it was his hope to get employee pays back on schedule for the Dec. 28 payday. Employees were also promised a so-called $250 “loyalty” bonus along with other financial perks for sticking with the company in the days following the bankruptcy filing. It was to be paid out Dec. 14.
The call centre lost about 50 to 75 employees after the Chapter 11 filing, according to Riley.
For those who decided to stay, no one will see their bonus or their regular paycheques. Employees last received a pay on or around Nov. 21.
“The plan is to work with Service Canada to ensure all employees apply for and receive employment insurance benefits as soon as possible,” Riley said.
“We want to keep very close contact with our workers here.”
He said he’s been speaking with an American investor who toured the call centre last week and is interested in buying its assets.
The businessman had been part of a larger deal for the past few weeks to buy the company as part of the bankruptcy case.
According to Riley, the man owns call centres in Iowa, North Dakota, Georgia, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
“He knows this business very well; that’s why he really wanted to come down and do some investigating himself.”
He added, “I’m going to work my darndest to get this deal done within the next five to 10 business days so we can get people back employed.”
He described the call centre as being “extremely profitable,” totalling $500,000 to $600,000 in gross revenue a month.
The call centre’s four clients — GM OnStar, Sirius XM satellite radio, AT&T and Allstate Insurance — will be handed back all proprietary information currently held by ServiCom, said Riley.
ServiCom opened in 1999 as Ron Weber and Associates Inc. in Sydney River.