Anthony Marlowe, CEO of MCI Canada, is shown in a handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-MCI Canada MANDATORY CREDIT

‘Lots of hugs’ as shuttered Cape Breton call centre reopens under new ownership

SYDNEY, N.S. — A shuttered call centre in Cape Breton came back to life Wednesday, weeks after its previous owner abruptly closed the facility and tossed hundreds of people out of work just before the holiday season.

Workers showing up for their 9:30 a.m. shifts filed into the newly minted Sydney Call Centre Inc., the site of the former ServiCom centre that closed without notice on Dec. 6.

Todd Riley, vice-president of operations, said about 275 people were expected to report for work Wednesday out of about 465 that have been hired back so far.

He said some were so excited to get back to work that they showed up an hour early.

“It was fantastic — there were a lot of hugs, a lot of people saying, ‘Thank you’ and ‘I’m so happy to be back,”’ Riley said of the mood in the big, open office space.

“It’s definitely brighter days ahead for everybody in this call centre and I really think people rallied and stuck by each other.”

Iowa businessman Anthony Marlowe confirmed on Dec. 23 that he bought the former ServiCom call centre in an auction that was part of the company’s bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.

Marlowe Companies Inc. said earlier this week that more than 450 people have already applied for positions at the Sydney Call Centre.

If hired over the next month, workers with call centre experience from the last 90 days will receive a $300 starting bonus, along with the base pay and vacation levels from their previous employer and improved benefits.

The starting wage for newly hired workers will increase to $12 per hour from $11 per hour.

All work programs will restart by Jan. 14, and the company is still accepting applications. Riley’s hoping to return to employment levels that reached about 650 last March by this March and April.

“We had a real good response from people who wanted to come back, so the second piece of this now is working to get all those guys back on payroll ASAP,” Riley said.

Employees are handling calls for OnStar and AT&T, and details are being finalized for two other clients. Riley said the company is even looking to expand in other parts of Canada, but didn’t offer any details.

“We will be looking at options for potentially more sites in the Canadian demographic, so there’s a lot of things that are going to happen,” he said.

MCI had been in negotiations to buy the call centre in the weeks before its sudden closure, which left about 600 people unemployed and without their last paycheques. Marlowe offered $1.5 million for the idled call centre, outbidding two other interested buyers.

The sale was a relief to many in the community, which has suffered from chronic levels of high unemployment and offered few options for the laid-off workers.

Most of the workers were owed about four weeks in back pay, a liability that Marlowe’s company said rests with ServiCom.

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