With Sears filing for bankruptcy and as many stores closing, the end may be approaching the iconic US dealer. Many of us are not clear.
A group of current and former employees of Sears Holdings urged a federal bankruptcy judge to meet them and force the dealer to make concessions as it pursues a last-minute deal to save in shrinkage. 19659004] The employees, who have organized their campaign through an action group called Rise Up Retail, sent a letter to US bankruptcy judge Robert Drain and asked him to take steps to protect their interests.
Sears has closed more than 3,500 stores and cut about 250,000 jobs in roughly the last 15 years as a sales crate, leading to the company's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in October.
But the company, which also owns the Kmart chain, still has around 45,000 employees and 425 stores that will be transferred to the Sears chairman and former CEO Eddie Lampert's hedge fund ESL Investments whose Drain approves the proposed sale.  Drain began a hearing on Monday to consider the deal. Sears board member William Transier testified that Drain had personally urged the dealer and ESL to agree on a sale behind closed doors because of his "very strong" hope to save as many jobs as possible.
But a group of unsecured creditors and the US government's pension insurance company have asked Drain to reject the agreement and say that the unwarranted favors Lampert, the company's largest shareholder and largest lender.
The employee group said that creditors charges, including claiming that Lampert should "steal" the key to Sears assets through a complex series of financial transactions, "is convincing."
"For our jobs, our colleagues, our communities, and our families, we want Sears Holdings to succeed, not be a farmer in the gambling games," wrote employees. "The reality, which we know from our lived experience, is that Lampert has put the company through the longest liquidation in the retail history. If he regains control of Sears, he will only continue the slow-burning."
But they feel stuck. If the Lampert agreement collapses, Sears will almost inevitably resemble and leave them without jobs.
"We love our company and want to see it thrive again. We have deep concerns that if Eddie Lampert takes the helm again, Sears and Kmart we know and love will be gone forever," writes staff. "We believe that with the insight and responsibility of the workforce, the new Sears have the opportunity to succeed."
The workers asked the judge to meet current and past workers "to listen to our ideas and concerns" and arrange resignation for workers who lost their jobs before Sears filed for bankruptcy. They also asked the judge to force the new Sears to give the employee and community members a seat on the board, while also forcing the role of CEO and leader of the new company to separate.
The employees and pensioners wrote: Michelle Hill, Lori Hoskins Gabe Maguire, Bruce Miller, Leonardo Ortiz, Ondrea Patrick, Jose Perez, Victor Urquidez and Wendy Woolstenhulme.
Their call came after the Sears board member Transier testified Monday that the Sears sale contract to Lampert's ESL does not exclude future job cuts or retail bars.
Sears refused to comment on the letter Tuesday.
ESL said in a statement that the bid "offers Sears the only long-term opportunity to save and create jobs, respect the extended guarantees purchased by so many customers, generate new volume and grow."
"We intend for the new company to run as many Sears and Kmart stores as possible, including new smaller stores that emphasize our stronger capabilities. Continuing to operate a meaningful network of stores is important to reach our goal to return Sears to profitability, says ESL.
Matthew Mason, a commercial property advisor to Conway MacKenzie and former real estate advisor for Sears and Kmart, said there is a good chance that ESL will continue to close stores following the deal.
"It looks like there are a series of complex financial transactions without a solid retail plan," he said in an interview.
Drain is expected to continue the sales hearing Wednesday and it could enter on Thursday, after which he will rule if Sears can be allowed to sell himself.
Sears bankruptcy lawyer Ray Schrock said the company hopes to close the deal on Friday if it wins approval. 19659029] Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @ NathanBomey .
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