KKR and Bain Capital, the private equity firms that owned Toys R Us before the company declared bankruptcy earlier this year, said Tuesday that they have each pledged $10 million to create the TRU Financial Assistance Fund, which aims to distribute severance funds to former employees.
The move is unusual for the firms, as they are not required under bankruptcy law to do such a thing.
In a joint statement, KKR and Bain said the fund is being established in response to "an extraordinary set of circumstances" for both of the firms.
"The confluence of the disruption in retail, the push by the company's secured creditors to liquidate the company's U.S. operations, and the fact that we have never experienced something like this in the history of either firm led us to try and find a way to provide some financial relief for former employees," the firms said in a statement.
In order to be eligible for the payments, those who were left jobless as a result of the company's liquidation will have to meet certain criteria. The ex-employees will have to have worked at Toys R Us for at least a year, they can't have more than $110,000 or less than $5,000 in annual income, and they must have met the termination and employment guidelines in the Toys R Us plan.
New Jersey Democratic U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., whose district once included the company's headquarters, issued a joint statement regarding Tuesday's announcement of the creation of the fund.
"Fundamental to our values as Americans is the ideal that if you work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to get ahead," the statement said. "For months, we have been raising concerns around the lack of support for impacted Toys 'R' Us employees and their families in an effort to provide some measure of fairness to the workers who built a great New Jersey company. Today marks a positive step toward fulfilling a moral obligation to thousands of former Toys 'R' Us workers."
The two senators and congressman stood with Toys R Us workers in June outside the New Jersey-based retailer's former headquarters in Wayne demanding fairness for the workers and their families affected by the company's demise.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a former presidential candidate, tweeted about the establishment of the severance fund, saying that "We will continue to fight the greed of Wall Street and private equity, and to expand the collective bargaining rights of all Americans."
Shortly after Toys R Us announced it was going out of business, employees across the country banded together to protest for severance payments in Washington, D.C., and New York, and even lobbied in front of Congress and the firm's investors. In September, the firms and the ex-employees agreed to the deal.
Now, ex-employees are focusing their attention on hedge funds Solus Alternative Asset Management and Angelo Gordon & Co. that were behind the decision to liquidate the company.
Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros have been appointed by Bain and KKR to be the independent administrators of the fund, according to a joint release from the firms. In the past, the two have assisted in distributing funds to various groups, including compensation to victims of the 9/11 attacks.
"We have designed a transparent, straight-forward, and simple process that should provide some financial relief to eligible former employees," Biros said in a statement. "Next, we want to hear from those former employees affected by the unexpected liquidation."
There will be a two-week period for all interested parties to comment on the terms and conditions of the plan. These comments will be evaluated by both Feinberg and Biros. After outlining the final terms and conditions, the claims process is expected to begin Dec. 15 and the aim is to complete payments by April 30, 2019.