Nova Scotia community rallies behind hundreds who lost their jobs ahead of holidays

By Canadian Press
December 8, 2018 - 12:23pm

SYDNEY, N.S. — A Cape Breton community has leaped into action following the sudden closure of a Sydney, N.S., call centre that left nearly 700 people without jobs just three weeks before Christmas.

In the wake of the ServiCom facility closure announced Thursday, another local business has decided to forgo its Christmas party, opting instead to donate the funds set aside for the bash to help the employees left stunned and jobless by the move.

Seaside Communications, a telecommunications company based out of nearby Reserve Mines, has donated $10,000 to The Salvation Army Sydney Community Church, which is working to help those affected through its food bank and Christmas assistance program.

"This is a relatively small community that we've got down here, and I think when you have an employer as large as ServiCom that makes an announcement like it did the other day, it has a profound impact on the community," said Seaside Communications CEO Loran Tweedie in an interview.

"Collectively, everybody was very concerned with the way it went down, and the hardship that was connected to the announcement, because it's not just a statistic in a community like this. It's very close to home."

Tweedie said the roughly 100 people who work at Seaside Communications were willing to sacrifice thier party to help out those affected by the ServiCom closure — some of whom they knew personally.

The shutdown followed a bankruptcy protection filing by ServiCom's U.S. parent, weeks of pay delays and promises of bonuses and pay incentives for workers who stayed.

Jessica Strople, an owner of The Cave Bar and Lounge in Sydney, said her business is also stepping up to raise funds for the affected ServiCom staff.

"Living here in Sydney, we know how many people count on ServiCom for their income, for their whole family's income, in some cases," she said.

Strople said the bar, which normally doesn't charge for entrance, is charging patrons a $5 cover fee this weekend, with all proceeds being donated to help the laid-off staff.

"Being a business in the community — a community that supports us — we feel it's our duty to step in and do something," she said. "Even though it's only a $5 donation, I believe it's really important for people to come together, and I think we can really make a difference in the lives of these families."

Since posting about the fundraiser on The Cave's Facebook page, she said they've already recieved dozens of messages from people who don't have the money for Christmas gifts and are worried their children won't have lunch money in the coming weeks.

Kayla Williams, who worked at the office for five years, said Friday that she was blindsided by the news, noting that company officials had recently promised bonuses and pay incentives.

In a subsequent interview Saturday, she said she appreciated the community effort to stand behind her and the other ServiCom employees.

"It definitely shows that there are still great people out there that would do anything to help, even with having their own families," she said.

Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan had said it was a "devastating time for Cape Bretoners," but he said he was confident the centre had a "bright future" after speaking with a prospective buyer Friday morning.

The minister said he couldn't offer more details, citing court proceedings in the United States. He said a deal was pending when the bankruptcy issues caused a snafu.

Williams said she's hopeful this could mean a new job for her and her former coworkers in the new year.

"I do feel like this buyer is going to come through," she said, adding that the former site manager at the Sydney office has been keeping her and the other staff updated about their plans moving forward.

In an email, Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education spokeswoman Shannon Kerr said the department has launched an investigation into the situation and is making it a priority.

She said the Nova Scotia Works centres are there to help people who have lost their jobs and the centre in Sydney is ready to assist former ServiCom employees.

— By Alex Cooke in Halifax, with files from Alison Auld and Brett Bundale

The Canadian Press

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