As lawyers for Sears and its creditors battled in court Thursday over whether to accept Eddie Lampert's $5.2 billion offer to aquire the embattled retailer, both former and current employees continued to voice their concerns.
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In a letter sent to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain, a group of employees for Sears Holdings, through an action group called Rise Up Retail, urged the presiding judge to give them a "seat at the table," saying the transaction is just a scheme for the billionaire and former Sears CEO to “steal” key Sears assets.
Here's a look at the full letter sent to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain.
February 4, 2019
Dear Judge Drain:
We are writing on behalf of current and former Sears and Kmart employees whose future economic security lies in your hands. Many of us have been with Sears or Kmart for decades and fondly remember them as family companies who cared deeply about their workforce. We have been actively following the bankruptcy proceedings as, ultimately, it is our jobs and benefits that are at stake.
Since the bankruptcy announcement in October, we have not had peace of mind. It was stunning to watch our company and our jobs being tossed around like a volleyball by Eddie Lampert, with no outreach to his employees. This is not surprising — Lampert always put personal financial gain before his employees and their families. As Sears’ biggest shareholder, chairman, lender and CEO, Lampert has repeatedly stripped Sears of its assets and sold them off piece by piece to corporations he controls or has major stakes in. While these decisions have made Lampert more than a billion dollars, he has destroyed more than 250,000 jobs in the process, put countless families in financial harm, closed the vast majority of Sears and Kmart stores and put the company on the brink of the liquidation.
For the sake of our jobs, our coworkers, our communities, and our families, we want Sears Holdings to succeed, not be a pawn in Lampert’s game. The reality, as we know from our lived experience, is that Lampert has been putting the company through the longest liquidation in retail history. If he regains control of Sears, he will merely continue that slow burn. Lampert has repeatedly shown that our severance and retirement are of no concern to him. Last year, he wrote in the Sears Holdings blog that if the company had taken the billions it paid into employees’ hard earned pension plans and put it into its operations, it would have had more resources to compete with large retailers. We think he could have done the same with the $5.3 billion in share repurchases he issued over the years for his own short-term profits.
Unfortunately, Eddie Lampert’s bid is the only one that does not lead to liquidation. The Unsecured Creditors Committee has made major allegations about Lampert’s “years of misconduct” and deliberate profiteering from Sears at the expense of others. While the UCC’s motions are compelling, it does not center us, the employees, and our livelihoods, and seeks to destroy Lampert’s bid for its own gain. REITs like Simon and manufacturers like Whirlpool are only interested in recuperating their debts through liquidation, not about the employees.
As current and former employees, we are stuck between a rock and hard place as neither option offers us a secure future. Our labor helped build these companies, but we are not considered creditors, secured or unsecured. We saw how you attempted to bargain a fair deal for unionized workers during the Hostess bankruptcy. We are reaching out in the hope that you will do the same for all Sears and Kmart workers. We love our company and want to see it prosper again. We have deep concerns that if Eddie Lampert takes the helm again, the Sears and Kmart we know and love will be gone forever. We believe that with insight and accountability from the workforce, new Sears has the chance to succeed. We would like to propose the following three changes as a positive step for new Sears to be successful:
1. If Lampert’s bid is the lead contender, he should meet with current and former employees to listen to our ideas and concerns. He also needs to offer severance for pre-petition workers who have not been fairly compensated.
2. Current employees and community leaders should have a seat at the table in the form of corporate board representation.
3. The positions of CEO and Chairperson of the board of new Sears must be separated.
We hope you will seriously consider our recommendations as we are seriously vested in the future best interest of the company; it is directly tied to a secure economic future for us and our families. We want to rebuild the Sears and Kmart of old in 2019 and beyond.