Sears Workers, Galvanized by Toys ‘R’ Us, Ask for Bankruptcy Assurances

(Bloomberg) -- Employees of Sears Holdings Corp., inspired by the hardship fund for workers affected by the collapse of Toys “R” Us Inc., are asking Chairman Eddie Lampert and the firms involved in the chain’s bankruptcy to preserve jobs and stores as well as guarantee severance pay and pensions.

“While we understand that Sears and Kmart must make changes to survive, we do not believe it is fair that financial firms stand to profit from Sears’s bankruptcy while employees like us are asked to sacrifice,” the workers said in a letter addressed to Lampert. It was signed by 62 current and former employees.

Sears says it has no plans to liquidate after filing for Chapter 11 court protection in October, but it has been closing stores and cutting jobs as part of that process. It’s still working to keep several hundred outlets alive as part of Lampert’s plan to buy the company out of bankruptcy. Sears has lost billions of dollars since Lampert combined the Hoffman Estates, Illinois-based company with Kmart in 2005.

“Protecting the interests of Sears’ associates and all stakeholders has and will continue to be a priority for the management, board and restructuring committee of Sears,” a company spokesperson said.

KKR & Co. and Bain Capital, the two buyout firms that took Toys “R” Us private, said earlier this month that they will each kick in $10 million to a fund for workers who lost their jobs when the retailer collapsed last year. Those contributions followed months of pressure from former employees and their representatives, including the Organization United For Respect and its Rise Up Retail campaign, which are now teaming up with the Sears employees.

Sears won a second round of bankruptcy financing this week, and says it will need another $239 million in order to keep operating 505 stores beginning next year. Lampert is teaming up with investor and debtholder Cyrus Capital Partners to make the bid to buy and operate those stores, Bloomberg has reported.

“We want Sears and the bankruptcy court to be more aware of the effect this is having on workers. This isn’t just about dollars, we are people,” Sheila Brewer, a former Kmart employee, said in a separate news release from Rise Up Retail.

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