NATIONWIDE As Shopko shuttered its remaining stores on Sunday, employees who have come together with the United for Respect retail movement, took action online and in-store locations across Illinois, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, calling on Shopko owner Sun Capital Partners to establish a financial assistance fund to pay the severance of all 14,000 employees impacted by Shopko’s liquidation.

On their last day of work at Shopko stores, employees wore t-shirts and hung signs in their stores reading “Shopko Strong,” “Sun Capital Killed Our Jobs” and “We Want Our Severance.” Several former Toys ‘R’ Us,  Sears and Kmart employees also tweeted their sadness, frustration, and support for Shopko employees, as they join the growing list of retail employees whose companies have been driven into bankruptcy by private equity. 

“Sun Capital took our jobs and our health care and plundered our company. They need to take responsibility for their greedy actions,” said Kristi Van Beckum, a Shopko employee of 14 years from Wisconsin. “After more than a dozen years of service to Shopko, I have nothing to show for it. Every single Shopko employee deserves severance.”

This comes on the heels of a letter sent by Senator Tammy Baldwin to Sun Capital Partners on behalf of nearly 3,000 Wisconsin Shopko employees last week, calling on the Shopko owners to pay severance for all of the employees who will or have already lost their jobs because of the company’s liquidation. Last month, nearly 700 Shopko employees sent a letter demanding that private equity firm Sun Capital Partners take responsibility for destroying the 58-year Midwestern retailer. In 2005, Sun Capital bought Shopko in a $1.1B leveraged buyout. Sun Capital then loaded the retailer with debt, sold its real estate holdings out from under it and made its own stores rent it back, extracting hundreds of millions of dollars instead of re-investing it in its workforce or modernizing the company. 

“Wisconsin businesses are being shut down and nearly 3,000 Shopko workers are losing their jobs because of Sun Capital’s mismanagement and predatory playbook,” said U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). “This out-of-state, predatory private equity firm has no respect for the dignity of hard work and I won’t stand by while promises are broken to these workers. I am calling for Sun Capital to establish a fund to pay severance for all ShopKo workers affected by this liquidation. We need to do right by them and reward their hard work.”

Shopko employees’ drive for severance pay builds on the efforts of the movement of Toys ‘R’ Us workers who fought for and won a historic $20 million hardship fund from KKR and Bain Capital, who caused the bankruptcy of their employer. The last few years have seen a wave of private equity-driven retail bankruptcies in addition, including Payless ShoeSource, Gymboree and Charlotte Russe. Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, and working families across the country have lost their livelihoods, healthcare, and, in many cases, due severance. 

If you’re covering Shopko and would like to speak to an employee impacted by the company’s liquidation, please contact Taylor Campbell at (202) 854-9571 or [email protected].