SYDNEY, N.S.—A heartbreaking story of hundreds of Nova Scotians laid off just before Christmas has reached a happy ending with a new owner, laughter, and a drink at the Legion.
The Sydney Call Centre Inc. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to thank the community and celebrate its official reboot on the company’s first pay day.
Iowa businessman and centre owner Anthony Marlowe addressed a crowd of politicians, community leaders and more than 100 call centre workers in black T-shirts adorned with the company’s eagle logo gathered in the centre of the large hangar-like space.
“I’m going to try not to get emotional. I’ve really never seen or experienced anything like the people of Cape Breton before, anywhere in my travels around the world or the U.S.,” Marlowe told the crowd.
“The sense of community and family, and friendship and extended family, and loyalty is just second to none.”
Marlowe said about 480 workers have returned to the operation after being laid off by the previous owner of the ServiCom facility just before Christmas. It reopened Jan. 2.
He added that number represents about 93 per cent of the original workforce, and since the news of the reopening spread they now have 400 applications for new employees.
By March, Marlowe said they will be hiring at least 50 full-time employees to handle inbound customer service as they add a new U.S. furniture retailer client.
On top of raising the starting wage to $12 from $11 an hour, Marlowe said Friday the company now provides workers with free medical and dental benefits as well as life insurance, which he calls a small investment in the health and well-being of the loyal and dedicated workforce.
Amid loud cheers and clapping, Marlowe called up various supervisors and staff to hand out the first stacks of paycheques to employees.
Throughout Marlowe’s speech, employees could be seen clasping their hands under their chin as they listened, or wiping a tear from underneath glasses.
The long, high-ceilinged building has hundreds of rows of cubicles, and in the centre a large cork board with pet and baby pictures brightens up the space, as well as music posters and one sign reading “Have a day that matters.”
On Dec. 6, ServiCom Canada told its 600 employees in Sydney it was closing, leaving employees without their last paycheques.
Marlowe offered $1.5-million for the idled call centre at the end of December, outbidding two other interested buyers in an auction that was part of bankruptcy proceedings in the United States.
The day he confirmed the sale on Dec.23, Marlowe also suggested in a text to the Canadian Press that one of the managers buy every employee a beer and send Marlowe the bill.
“So tonight after work we’re going to head to the Ashby Legion, and the tab is on me,” Marlowe said with a smile about the Sydney-area centre, to another round of loud cheers and clapping.
He added that he was given a little mug from one of the call centre team’s reading “honorary Cape Bretoner,” which he’ll be putting to the test on Friday night.
As the event wrapped up and refreshments were brought out, a small group of call centre women began singing The Barra MacNeil’s The Island. They sang just a few lines before trailing off.
“We are a people, as proud as there’s been. In soft summer breeze, or in wild winter winds, the home of our hearts, Cape Breton.” –with files from The Canadian Press
(HO, SYDNEY CALL CENTRE INC. *MANDATORY CREDIT*/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Employees at the Sydney Call Centre Inc. listen as centre directors and new owner Anthony Marlowe speak during a ribbon-cutting event on Friday in Sydney, N.S. Marlowe said 480 workers have returned to the operation after being laid off by the previous owner of the facility just before Christmas, and there are plans to add at least 50 more positions by this spring. (POST BY: THE CANADIAN *PHOTO BY: STARMETRO HALIFAX)