‘We’re going to have a deal very soon’: Staff briefed on possible ServiCom buyer

SYDNEY, N.S. — The sudden closure of a Cape Breton call centre continued to reverberate Monday, with about 450 former employees briefed on a potential buyer — and sympathetic members of the public warned to be careful about where they send their donations.

“We haven’t really authorized or endorsed anyone to do fundraising for us,” said Tanya Wilneff, a former manager at the ServiCom Canada facility in Sydney.

Wilneff said Monday she had spotted at least six GoFundMe sites that purported to be raising money for the almost 700 ServiCom employees — all of whom lost their jobs last Thursday as part of a bankruptcy protection process involving the company’s U.S. parent.

The sites may have been set up by well-meaning people, but it is often difficult to tell if they are legitimate, said Wilneff, a former human resources manager who worked at the centre for 15 years.

Later in the day, many former employees gathered for a meeting in Sydney, where they learned about short-term assistance from the provincial and federal governments, as well as the prospects for an unnamed buyer to reopen the facility in the New Year.

Todd Riley, the call centre’s former director, said a meeting is scheduled for Tuesday between the U.S. judge handling the bankruptcy proceedings and the parent company’s creditors, as well as the potential buyer.

“We truly believe we’re going to have a deal in principle very, very soon,” he said.

Cecil Clarke, mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, and Nova Scotia Business Minister Geoff MacLellan have both indicated the centre was in the process of being sold when the bankruptcy proceedings interrupted the sale.

MacLellan, who attended Monday’s meeting, repeated his claim that a buyer is keen to reopen the call centre early in the new year.

He said the sale can’t go ahead until the American judge completes bankruptcy proceedings.

“There’s nothing (stopping the sale), from my perspective,” he said after the meeting. “There’s no show-stoppers.”

The cabinet minister, who represents a Cape Breton district, said the potential buyer represents a “committed group who want to stay at this site for a long time.”

MacLellan said representatives from key government departments, including Employment Nova Scotia, were on hand at the meeting to discuss what the government has to offer the workers.

“There was concern and sadness in the room,” he said. “But people are very positive (because) they understand that options are available … (And) the magnitude of reaction from people looking to give money and donate to these workers has been incredible. It’s sort of what we do in Cape Breton.”

Riley said the former employees decided Monday to set up a employee-management committee devoted to fundraising.

“We do not want anybody setting up a fraudulent account to reap benefits from this situation,” he said after the meeting. “We’ll focus on one account that we will put out there.”

Wilneff said she and her colleagues have been stunned by the outpouring of help from friends and neighbours.

“It’s been overwhelming, the amount of people who have been supporting us,” she said, her words trailing off as she drew a deep breath to maintain her composure. “I get a bit emotional talking about it.”

In particular, she said volunteers at the local food bank — operated by the Salvation Army — have stepped up to make sure every former ServiCom employee has enough provisions to make it through the holiday season.

As well, a local pizza joint — Alexandra’s Pizza in Sydney — has handed out $3,000 in gift cards, she said.

“Every day, there’s somebody calling to ask about making a donation,” Wilneff said, adding that her former colleagues include married couples and single parents who are now without work on an island where the jobless rate is hovering around 15 per cent.

“People are being generous, and I don’t even think they understand what a huge impact it is having on our employees.”

ServiCom provided customer support to major firms, such as OnStar Corp., a subsidiary of General Motors, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, AT&T Inc. and Allstate Insurance company.

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