Two private equity owners of the iconic Toys R Us toy chain will be handing over a $20 million hardship fund to the thousands of former workers left jobless and without severance after the chain liquidated in June.
The move by KKR and Bain Capital announced Tuesday is aimed at helping the 30,000 workers affected by the store closures and comes following efforts by worker-backed groups. The fund wasn't legally required and the groups call the move "unprecedented" to help families caught in the crossfires of a slew of retail store closures and bankruptcies in a fast-changing retail industry.
Workers are pushing to get an additional $55 million they believe they're owed and are looking to other firms that had a stake in Toys R Us and that they believed played a role in the chain's demise.
"This is an amazing first step, but the goal is to keep the pressure on," said Ann Marie Reinhart, 59, of Durham, North Carolina, who worked at Toys R Us for 29 years, most recently as a store supervisor. She said she hasn't been able to find work that pays health insurance since she was laid off early this past summer.
While the iconic toy retailer was liquidating its hundreds of stores in June, workers were informed they would not get severance. They began protesting outside the New York offices of the retailer's former owners KKR, Bain and Vornado Realty Trust, firms that loaded the company with debt, helping push it into bankruptcy in the fall of 2017.
Then, they showed up at more than a dozen pension meetings around the country over the last few months, exerting pressure on them to push the equity owners they invest in to do right by workers and act more responsibly.
Since late summer, Toys R Us workers have been pressuring pension funds to in turn push a group of hedge firms that owned the retailer's secured debt in a bid to get the remaining money they say is owed to them. These so-called secured creditors, including Solus Alternative Asset Management and Angelo Gordon, were the ones that ultimately pushed for the liquidation as they looked to get returns for their investors.
The groups that organized the Toys R Us workers — Organization United for Respect, along with Private Equity Stakeholder Project and the Center for Popular Democracy — say that the hardship fund is being structured to allow the other firms to contribute, paving the way for Solus, Vornado and others to contribute.
The fund is administered by independent third party administrators, Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros, experts in designing and administering unique compensation programs such as the 9/11 fund and the BP oil spill fund. They'll serve as independent administrators of the fund, responsible for the independent management and distribution of all proceeds.