What if one-third of your workers became millionaires…

Alberta winners stay on job, B.C. workers go to court

Last month, before Canada’s largest lottery jackpot draw, millions of workers across the country dreamed of waking up millionaires and kissing their jobs goodbye.

But the winning 17 Alberta residents, all employees of the same gas plant, promised the $54.3-million Lotto 6/49 prize ($3.19 million each) won’t make them abandon the Viking Energy plant near Sedgewick where they have earned their livings for so many years.

“We’re all committed to the company,” Calvin Lewis, one of the lucky 17 told the Edmonton Sun shortly after the draw on Oct. 26. “Most of us will help out with whatever we need to do. Some of us might quit and some of us might not. We’re willing to stick it out and help bring new people in and whatever it takes.”

Dave Danko, mayor of Sedgewick where some of the winners live, attributed the newly minted millionaires’ attitude to a rural Alberta mentality that values loyalty and practicality.

“They’re a down-to-earth bunch with level heads on their shoulders,” he told Canadian HR Reporter. “They wouldn’t leave their plant in a real bind because if they all quit, the plant would be really scrambling and be in a real mess.”

The winners represent about half of the plant’s workforce and Diane Phillips, investor relations and assistant corporate secretary at Viking Energy’s head office in Calgary, said that all the winners have kept working since the draw.

“Nothing has changed there (at the plant),” she said. “It’s business as usual.”

Danko, who also owns Dave’s Pharmacy in the small town of 900 residents, said he wouldn’t quit his job either if he won $3 million.

The winners range in age from mid-20s to mid-50s and Danko said he knows some of them will retire, but he believes others won’t because they enjoy working.

But once the cold Albertan winter starts, some of the winners might find it difficult to motivate themselves to get to work through several metres of snow and might reconsider taking an early retirement.

The Viking Energy workers aren’t the only group of employees to hit it big with the lottery. Last year a group of six Scarborough, Ont.-deli workers split more than $18 million, about $3 million each. At the time, all the winners, including the deli’s owners, said they would keep working.

“The majority of winners do indicate that they continue working,” said Kathleen Polyaki, a spokesperson for the Western Canada Lottery Corporation, which follows up with winners a few months after the draw.

Other winners can’t wait to quit their jobs. In January of 2004, 10 Quebecor World employees in Montreal won $17.5 million. Two of the 10 winners gave notice almost immediately, taking full advantage of their windfall.

When three J.M. Schneiders factory workers won $10 million in early 2003, they also quit their jobs with one of the winners telling The Record in Kitchener-Waterloo: “I have made my last hot dog.”

Unfortunately, lottery pools can lead to tension and acrimony in the workplace when there’s a dispute over who has contributed.

In August, nine A&W restaurant employees in British Columbia held a winning Lotto 6/49 ticket worth more than $14 million. Four of their co-workers then claimed that they too were part of the pool.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge recently awarded the nine undisputed winners $1.1 million from the jackpot. The other four will go to trial, which should start next spring, to determine if they have any claim to the remaining winnings.

Polyaki recommends that whenever employees participate in a lottery pool that they keep a written record — including names, the lottery type and date, copies of the tickets and how much each person contributed.

“This won’t necessarily prevent any disputes,” she said. “But it will reduce the likelihood of them.”

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