Five months after the sudden financial collapse of Goodwill's Toronto-based chapter left hundreds of its vulnerable workers jobless, the charity's international headquarters in the United States has approved a plan that will see the thrift-shop operator return to Canada's largest city.
The new Goodwill operations in Toronto and its surroundings, as well as in Eastern and Northern Ontario, will be run by Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes, which currently operates the charity across Southwestern Ontario and is based in London, Ont.
Michelle Quintyn, the president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Ontario Great Lakes, says the return of the charity to Toronto will be gradual, but some operations should be up and running next year.
She calls the plan a "fresh start" for the charity, which also operates job programs and career centres.
"It's a big climb to restore and revitalize what was there," Ms. Quintyn said in an interview.
She said the charity is working on a strategic plan and is likely to go into markets outside downtown Toronto at first, as the cost of real estate in the core makes expansion difficult.
Her arm of the charity, which also operates Goodwill facilities in Waterloo Region and has a growing staff of more than 600 people, is on a strong footing, she said, having quadrupled its revenue over the past nine years. It now brings in $23-million a year.
Unlike in the bankrupt former Toronto-based chapter, Ms. Quintyn said her staff are not unionized and the new operations in Toronto would not inherit the old Toronto union. The old charity's managers blamed union resistance to more flexible worker schedules for some of Goodwill's financial woes.
Ms. Quintyn said none of the former Toronto-based Goodwill facilities would be used, but if former staff are still in need of a Goodwill job, they will be welcome.
"We hope most of those individuals, given the long delay, maybe a year or more, have found a path," Ms. Quintyn said. "Our door is open to anyone who seeks to have an opportunity to work with us. And we anticipate some of the individuals who were once associated with Goodwill will be associated with it again in the future."
Maeve Biggar, a lawyer for the Canadian Airport Workers Union, which represented workers at the defunct Toronto-based Goodwill chapter, said the union would be looking into the situation but had no further comment.
Typically, under Ontario law, a union at a company that is sold to a new owner can apply to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to be recognized as the new workplace's bargaining unit. But it is unclear whether such an application could succeed in this case.
The Goodwill based in Toronto, which also served Eastern and Northern Ontario, suddenly shut its doors one weekend in January, announcing that its entire board had resigned. The charity blamed an acute cash-flow crisis after a worse-than-expected holiday season. Its 430 staff, mostly low-wage workers, were paid their last week's wages, but left without jobs.
The fall was a long time coming: Goodwill Toronto had suffered from years of bad management and financial missteps, although in recent years efforts had been made to downsize operations and stabilize the charity.
The Toronto-based arm was defrocked of its right to use the Goodwill name by the charity's international headquarters, and filed for bankruptcy, owing $6-million to its staff and suppliers but holding just $835,000 in assets.
A last-ditch attempt to reopen without the Goodwill name, led by chief executive officer Keiko Nakamura, failed.