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Target Canada's liquidation sales add to worker chaos

Employees stock shelves at the new Target store on the eve of the store's opening in Guelph, Ontario in this March 4, 2013 file photo. Only a year ago in 2013, Target was touting its first store openings in Canada. Then Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel told investors he was pleased with how his workers and systems were handling the launch. But things were already going awry, said the sources, who worked at two of Target's three distribution hubs and spoke on condition of anonymity. Target, which is due to report its quarterly financial results on May 21, 2014 has said little about what went wrong with its Canadian supply chain. To match Exclusive TARGET-CANADA/ REUTERS/Geoff Robins/Files (CANADA - Tags: BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) (REUTERS)

Target Canada is struggling with employee defections and what one manager describes as "nasty morale" as it preps for liquidation sales later this week.

The big sales are set to hit stores Thursday, according to internal company emails obtained by CBC News.

While it may mean great deals for shoppers, the added workload could spell added chaos for employees and managers. Target's stores are already suffering from a surge in absentee workers and some locations are overwhelmed by the truckloads of merchandise flowing in, the memos say.

U.S.-based Target announced last month that it was closing its 133 stores in Canada and laying off about 17,600 employees. The Canadian operation has received court protection from its creditors.

According to court records, the company aims to have court approval on Wednesday for a group of liquidation companies to oversee the sell-off of all store contents.

All hands on deck

The big sales will mean big demands on store staff.

"We expect Thursday sales to double compared to a normal Thursday," explains a Target Canada email sent to select staff on Jan. 30.

In another email, a senior human resources employee for the company in B.C. calls for "all [cashier] lanes open through the weekend and all hands on deck."

Plus there's a need for swift unloading of new cargo. She notes trucks will arrive more often, packed with products: "We need to work the trucks and empty them every day."

Dwindling staff

All hands on deck may prove difficult. Since the shutdown announcement, a growing number of employees haven’t been showing up for work.

"Stores have experienced a spike in unjustified absences," notes Target Canada operational updates sent on Jan. 27 and 29. Those emails also warn that workers off sick can be required to bring a doctor’s note "to justify their absence."

It adds, "failure to present a doctor’s note can result in corrective action."

Some Target Canada workers have told CBC News they're upset because they're not getting a severance package. Target is paying most employees for at least the 16 final weeks, but they may have to work for the entire period.

"People have been calling [in sick] because there’s really a lack of motivation. You’re losing your job in a certain amount of time and there’s no severance, there’s no taking care of you," a Target Canada management employee that we are calling David told CBC News.

He asked that we not use his real name because he fears repercussions.

Too much to handle

David says that some stores, including his, are already being bombarded with extra deliveries as the company clears out its warehouses.

"We are already starting to fall behind [unloading deliveries] in some locations," the Jan. 29 operational update email confirmed. It asked affected stores to "get caught up as soon as possible," and noted there will be additional deliveries this week.

David says his store started receiving additional deliveries last week. He believes the heavy workload and spate of absences by employees has been wearing on his remaining workers.

"These guys are just trying to work you like a dog and sending all this freight. There’s just really nasty morale," he says.

"My people are saying, they want to go for interviews but at the end of the day, they’re so god-darned tired."

Liquidation meltdown?

David worries how his dwindling staff will be able to cope with the extra challenge of a liquidation sale.

"My biggest concern and my biggest question is, even if I have a staff, do they care? And even if I can schedule them, will they show up? And then the people who do show up, what’s it going to look like for them? How are we going to manage? There’s so much uncertainty around it."

He’s concerned that, as the workload increases, more employees may call it quits early. "I think there’s a high probability of a lot of people just walking away."

“It’s going to be really tough for the team that’s there,” he concludes. “It’s going to be an emotional roller coaster.”

Asked for a response, Target Canada spokesperson Molly Snyder would only say that "the [employee] team is focused on managing the wind-down process."

As sales ramp up and employees’ jobs wind down, David asks that eager discount shoppers show some compassion.

"My request is, the people that come in, they have some level of understanding that it’s not going to be easy for the people that are behind the cash registers and getting that stuff onto the floor."

"Every time we sell something, we know we’re one step closer to losing our jobs."