Half of the workers laid off in Montreal by the American company Sonder, which received a $30 million loan from Quebec, had just signed a first collective agreement and trained colleagues in the Philippines before they left.
“This is the first time I’ve had a closure when we just had a collective agreement. […] We are appalled by this decision,” said Roxane Larouche, spokeswoman for the Quebec union TUAC.
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Employees had worried about downsizing in the Montreal office in favor of the Philippines, but never thought the company would put the key in the call center door.
Sonder announced last week that it would lay off 250 of its employees, including 40 in Montreal. About twenty of this group are unionized.
However, in 2020, Sonder had promised to create 700 jobs in Montreal, a “growth hub,” and invest $182 million in exchange for a $30 million loan from Quebec.
Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon was proud to announce the Government’s support for Sonder in this video released in 2020.
A first tranche of the $6 million loan has been allocated to Sonder but has not yet been drawn. The rest will follow over the next four years.
Prime Minister François Legault congratulated himself at a December 2020 news conference and said he was “heartbroken” to see the Montreal-based Sonder move its headquarters to San Francisco in 2017. “When I went to San Francisco in 2019, […] I asked them, “What can I do to bring at least part of this company back to Montreal?” he explained.
He had described Sonder’s services as a “hotel with an Amazon approach”.
Since then, a union has been formed in 2020, representing around 20 special call center workers, and a first collective agreement was signed in June.
Photo from Twitter
Roxanne Larouche. UFCW union
Roxane Larouche alleges that Montreal employees trained workers at a new call center in the Philippines before the company announced the closure of the Montreal call center.
Sonder claims that while there was an exchange, the staff were not responsible for the training.
The union does not rule out legal remedies.
Sources also told us that the layoffs were only announced in English.
Our investigative agency received a written message sent by management to employees to inform them of the layoffs. In this release we explain in English the decision to lay off due to the change in market sentiment since the beginning of the year.
“Creeping inflation, rising interest rates and a rapid drop in valuations of unprofitable companies of around 65% froze capital markets,” he said. Management says it “deeply regrets,” particularly the impact on the laid-off employees and their families.
Special spokeswoman Fiona Story defends herself by saying the “official documentation” provided to staff is available in English and French. She says there is no connection between the signing of the collective agreement and the layoffs.
“The decision to abolish the posts in question is not imputable [l’]approval [avec le syndicat]but to respond to the current situation in the stock markets,” she continued.
Sonder’s spokesman assured that the company “maintains its intention to invest in Quebec and to prioritize job creation there as part of the recovery that will result from this restructuring, particularly for specialized and high value-added positions.