Sears Tries To Avoid Layoffs As It Streamlines Operation

But 35 Workers In The County Could Lose Jobs

January 14, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

Managers of Sears, Roebuck and Co. stores in Anne Arundel County hope to avoid layoffs as they streamline operations in a company plan tocut costs and boost sagging profits.

The retailer, one of the nation's largest, announced plans earlier this month to slash 21,000 office and receiving jobs at stores across the country by mid-1991.

Stores in Glen Burnie and Annapolis could be forced to lay off upto 35 non-sales workers when the stores consolidate administrative and customer-service functions, managers said.

But reassignments make it just as likely that no one will lose a job, the managers said.

They have started interviewing non-sales employees to determine the number who will seek transfers. They will base reassignments primarily on experience and job availability.

"We could come close to placing everyone," said Brownie Cordell, general manager of the 25-year-old Sears in Glen Burnie. "We're in so much better condition here than in other places. The economy in Anne Arundel County has been stable for some time."

At that store, the larger of two in Anne Arundel, 80 of the more-than 400 employees fall into a non-sales category, Cordell said. Most of the employees work part time as cashiers or invoice clerks in personnel, customer service, credit, catalog or administration, Cordell said.

By March 1, when the store is scheduled to consolidate administrative and customer service functions into a main"hub," it will take about 60 people to do those jobs, Cordell estimated.

He has been trying to place those who remain on the sales floor, at the Sears Service Center in Millersville or at Allstate Insurance in Hanover, a Sears subsidiary.

Already he's had some success,placing two employees at the service center and five on the sales floor. Anyone not placed by March 1 would be laid off, he said.

"Thekey is to keep Sears people in Sears jobs," Cordell said. "The most difficult job I have is sitting across from an associate and telling them I don't have a job."

The 25-year-old Sears in Parole Plaza in Annapolis lists 50 non-sales employees in its 203-employee roster, general store manager Larry Canella said. It's possible up to 20 employees could be laid off, he said.

"The company has been big and sassy for a long time," Canella said. "It's finally catching up to us. Unfortunately, we have to make a stand in the economic times of today.But it's do-or-die for the company."

All 863 U.S. stores will create customer service and administrative "hubs" by March, in Phase 1 of reorganization, said Gordon Jones, a spokesman at Sears' Chicago headquarters.

In Phase 2, the company will streamline its receiving operation, and in Phase 3 it will combine the visual display, maintenance and housekeeping departments, Jones said.

The attempt to modernize includes switching to computer-based systems, new unloading equipment and bar-code readers

and scanning devices for inventory, Jones said.

Most other large merchants took similar steps long ago to operate more efficiently and at lower cost.

"We're a little behind the times and catching up," Cordell said. "Because we're so big, it takes a little longer sometimes for us to move."

The company's plans grew out of a yearlong study that identified hundreds of administrative and operating tasks that could be streamlined or eliminated, Jones said.

"This is not something that is happening today because of the recession, but it hit at a good time, when our company is having difficulty in sales, as many companys are," Cordell said.

Jones said he will not know for six months how many of the cuts -- including 3,500 full-time jobs and 17,500 part-time ones nationwide -- will translate into layoffs. The company's severance benefits range from accrued vacation for part-time workers to two weeks' pay for each year worked, up to a maximum of one year's pay, for full-time managers.

The plans represent one of the biggest job cutbacks by a U.S. company in recent years, industry analysts have said. The company employs 206,000 people nationwide.

Sears' announcement came at the end of the crucial holiday selling period.

Sears reported sales of $3.9 billion for last month, a 1.4 percent increase overall over the previous year but a 0.3 percent decline when measured only at stores open more than a year.

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