Westinghouse workers bitter over layoffs Longtime employees among those dropped

November 01, 1991|By Suzanne Wooton and Ted Shelsby

It ended pretty simply, 25 years after it began. Shortly after 9 a.m., Julie Rossi's supervisor walked into her cubicle, tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to step into their boss' office.

He handed her a personalized form letter about his "unhappy duty." The permanent layoff, from the only company she'd ever worked for, would be effective five days after Christmas. Her job was ending.

Within minutes, two co-workers -- with nearly 60 years experience between them -- got the same news. They, too, were among the 1,300 workers who will lose their jobs Dec. 30 in Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s second major layoff this year.

Last February, 1,200 people were laid off at the Baltimore area's largest manufacturing employer after the Pentagon canceled development of the Navy's A-12 attack aircraft program. While the latest round of cuts had been announced Oct. 11, workers didn't receive their pink slips until Wednesday.

"I felt like I'm being punished for striving to make the most of my career," said Ms. Rossi, a 43-year-old Bel Air woman who worked her way from file clerk in 1967 to a logistics planner today. "I didn't think it would be done so unfairly."

Much like the layoffs in February, yesterday's were across the board, affecting engineers, draftsmen, clerical workers and technicians at Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group. But once again, they struck surprisingly hard at those like Ms. Rossi with considerable seniority.

Bob Wilson, a 60-year-old logistic planner in Ms. Rossi's office, is 13 months shy of retiring at 30 years with a full pension. While he now plans to retire, the layoff will reduce his monthly pension checks, although severance pay could offset the impact of that.

But 59-year-old Francis Agnes, who celebrated 34 years with Westinghouse this year, says he will look for another job.

"I thought I'd retire at 62," said Mr. Agnes, an engineering shop coordinator who lives in Carney. "I'm going to try and find something else. But I don't know where to look."

Roughly 500 employees -- or one in five -- at the Hunt Valley plant off McCormick Drive will be laid off, along with another 800 at the complex near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Most are involved in the design and manufacture of communications and radar systems for civilian and military uses. Westinghouse officials blame the most recent layoffs on a decline and delay in contract orders.

Jack Martin, a local Westinghouse spokesman, said that the company conducted a "thorough and objective analysis" of how many people it needed to work on current and forthcoming contracts. He said the layoffs affect workers of all ages and seniority levels but declined to elaborate on how they were selected.

During the layoffs in February, Westinghouse set up a placement center in Woodlawn to help workers prepare resumes and find new jobs. It ran full-page ads in newspapers in several cities to urge prospective employers to hire laid-off workers, and it sent the employers a 3-inch-thick book containing resumes.

"We believe that the majority of these people who sought new employment found new jobs," Mr. Martin said.

But Westinghouse employees at Hunt Valley said yesterday that many of the workers laid off in February have taken temporary jobs or ones paying far less than they earned at Westinghouse. Others are still unemployed.

"I knew it would be hard, but it's gotten worse," said a 48-year-old Kingsville man who was laid off from Hunt Valley in February after 15 years there. He still hasn't found work, forcing his wife to find a job to support him and three children.

"I'm not sitting around. I have applied to three or four places a week and have gone back to some and reapplied after six months," he said.

The most recent layoffs will cut the company's employment in the state to 12,700. As recently as 1989, the company employed 17,000 people here.

Gary L. Eder, president of the Salaried Employees Association that represents more than 1,700 Westinghouse workers, criticized Westinghouse for laying off workers while subcontracting work to other Baltimore-area companies.

Mr. Eder said he met last week with Richard A. Linder, president of the Electronic Systems Group, to discuss the prospects of reducing the number of layoffs by bringing that work back to Westinghouse.

"He didn't make any promises," Mr. Eder said. "But he said he would look into it."

Many of those who received notices Wednesday failed to appear for work yesterday or stopped by only to pick up paychecks. Workers will be allowed time off with pay between now and Dec. 30 to search for other jobs. The Woodlawn center has been reopened to assist the latest round of employees.

In the courtyard in front of the five-story building at Hunt Valley, engineers and draftsmen complained bitterly yesterday about alleged nepotism, saying relatives of Westinghouse managers were recently transferred to plants in Columbia, Sykesville and Annapolis that were unaffected by the layoffs.

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