Cabinet-maker Jason Hooker and 70 or so other employees were left in the dark when their Orangeville, Ont.-based employer Pinehurst — a global store fixtures and architectural millwork manufacturer whose retail clients included Chanel, Starbucks, Giorgio Armani and Canadian rapper Drake — filed for bankruptcy recently.
While staff knew the company had been facing some tough times, “nobody thought they were in big trouble like this,” said Hooker, one of 49 unionized employees in Carpenters’ Local 27 employed by Pinehurst.
The 47-year-old said he is worried that he and his co-workers might never see another nickel from the company.
Jennifer Bennett, co-ordinator for the industrial sector of Carpenters’ Local 27, said the union is currently in negotiations with the company’s trustee, BDO Canada, concerning severance and termination payments. A meeting has been scheduled with the creditors June 3.
She said most of the unionized employees have 20 or more years of experience at Pinehurst.
“It’s sad for some of them who have only a few years left before retirement because they don’t know if they can find work.
“The Carpenters’ union is going to do everything in its power to make sure its members get what they are owed. We will also be doing our best to help them find new work,” she said. “We are advising the workers to stay in close contact with us while the situation unfolds.”
Hooker has 25 years of service with Pinehurst, making cabinets, doing glass and metal work and he was a specialist in Corian surface applications.
I’m scared I might have to sell my house,
— Jason Hooker
He speculated on whether company officials saw COVID-19 as “the perfect opportunity to close” or it closed “for its own personal reasons.”
Bennett spent time recently assisting employees with information and helping them remove their personal belongings from the company’s facility in Orangeville.
She said she has been told “a big number” of non-bargaining unit employees have also lost their jobs at Pinehurst.
Workers in the plant include skilled cabinet makers and carpenters from Local 27 along with stock-keeping and shipping employees.
Bennett said the union was notified of the closure not by company officials but rather by BDO.
Since mid-March all of the unionized workers had been on a temporary layoff because of COVID-19. Most them were receiving employment insurance benefits, she said.
The union had been in bargaining sessions for a new collective agreement with the company (Pinehurst Store Fixtures Inc.) earlier this year. The old agreement expired last November.
Bennett said the company had a for sale sign on the property for a number of months but one of the owners said “he was planning to downsize. They didn’t tell us anything in bargaining about plans to shut down.”
She said Pinehurst laid off all of its workers in mid-March as COVID-19 peaked.
“At the time, they said that this was because they were worried about the virus but now, looking back, we think they were just using that as an excuse.”
Hooker, who owns a house in Orangeville, is concerned about how he will make ends meet with his only income being employment insurance.
“I’m scared I might have to sell my house,” he said. “I’m a father of two. I take care of my mother. Income is obviously a big thing for me right now.”
Founded in 1967, Pinehurst moved from Mississauga to Orangeville 10 years ago. Over the years, it built a luxury retail clientele in Canada and the U.S.
In effort to help employees find new jobs, Bennett said she will reach out to Orangeville and surrounding area industrial businesses that the Carpenters’ union represents.
“We have some companies that are store fixture companies.”
Grant Brewster, vice-president and general manager of Pinehurst, said he when he called owner Donald Christie in mid-May to see when production would start up again, he was told by Christie the company is “pulling the plug, calling it a day.”
“It was a shock,” Brewster, who has been with Pinehurst for 11 years, said.
He suggested while the coronavirus might have been a factor in the closure, “it may have been a convenient exit point.”
Brewster said he hopes employees will at the very least receive the vacation pay owed to them. Employees with at least five years of service could also qualify for a severance package.
Owner Christie could not be reached for comment as of press time.