Steve Bellin's three children didn't worry about why Daddy came home early from work yesterday. Mary, 5, Christopher, 2, and 1-year-old Ashley were too busy climbing on and around their father to ask questions.
But Bellin's wife, Kathleen, wept when he walked through the door of their Carroll County home shortly after 10 yesterday morning. Though the couple had discussed the possibility of Bellin losing his job at USF&G Corp. just the night before, "I honestly didn't expect him to get laid off," she said.
Bellin, 38, was one of 900 USF&G employees who were let go yesterday morning. An employee of the insurance giant for 13 years, he was a senior service specialist for the company.
In a five-minute conversation with his manager, Bellin was told that his group would be combined with another group, "that numbers were being cut and that I was one of those numbers," he said.
He packed his belongings while a supervisor watched. Then Bellin was escorted out of the company's Mount Washington building.
But, as he sat in his living room, surrounded by his wife and children, Bellin seemed calm and self-assured. He said the job cuts had been anticipated since Norman P. Blake Jr., chairman, president and chief executive officer of the company, replaced Jack Moseley, 59, who stepped down after leading the company for nine years.
"There was a memo that had said there would be a reduction, and then we read in The Evening Sun that there would be layoffs," Bellin said. "We figured, obviously, something would be coming."
Bellin has found himself out of work before. He lost jobs twice in 1975, which was one reason he wanted to work for USF&G. He joined in 1978 as a computer operator trainee.
"The company had a reputation of never laying off its employees," he said. "I was looking for security at that time. I was looking for something that wouldn't go up and down with the economy. My father-in-law worked there for about 41 years."
Many of the fired employees who left the USF&G building in downtown Baltimore yesterday agreed with Bellin, saying they never suspected the company could find itself in so much financial trouble.
"I thought this was going to be a stable company. Now I've got to start all over again," said Tony Hawthorne, 29, who had worked six months in the USF&G purchasing department.
Hawthorne also said workers were not entirely surprised at the layoffs, although he said he had expected the company to offer early retirement plans before it began terminating workers involuntarily.
Denise Sipe, 34, another purchasing department employee who lost her job, said a friend at the company warned her Tuesday that the dismissals were coming.
"I didn't want to go to work today," Sipe said yesterday. She stood outside the headquarters with a small box of her belongings waiting to go to the bank to cash her severance pay.
Sipe, who has three children, said her husband also recently lost his job. She said she would apply for unemployment benefits and begin looking for work with other insurance companies .
For 12 years, Michael Faulcon, 34, was a chauffeur at USF&G, driving the chairman and out-of-town guests to appointments. After receiving notice that he had lost his job, he managed to smile. "It was a great company to work for. If they got to do it, they got to do it," he said. "I'll just find another job."
Bellin also spoke highly of USF&G, and said he felt no animosity toward the company. But he added that some employees questioned the company's management style, and that a lot of money had been spent over the last two years.
"And now the average guy is going to suffer because of it," he said.
In the meantime, Bellin plans to "sit back and enjoy my family for a few weeks." His severance package includes eight weeks' pay, plus two weeks' pay for each of the 13 years he was employed by the company.