A Pickpocket Recession Steals From The Wallets Of Many

November 10, 1991|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff writer

Five stories in today's Anne Arundel County Sun look at the impact of the recession on the county, from harried unemployment and housing counselors to shopkeepers hoping a busy Christmas will bail them out of a slow year.

At Annapolis Federal Bank, loan officers are looking more closely than ever at where loan applicants work -- and how long they're likely to keep their jobs.

"Some jobs are more volatile than others," explains Annapolis Federal President Gilbert Hardesty.

At Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group in Linthicum, the threat of unemployment suddenly became reality for 800 workers when they learned last month they'll lose their jobs by year's end.

Company officials immediately set up an outplacement center in Woodlawn and placed ads in newspapers, in the hopes that the laid-off employees, like many of 720 laid off in February, would soon find new jobs.

And at Reliable Contracting in Millersville, a paver and grader for commercial and residential projects, Tom Baldwin has sliced his 350-member work force to 250. While workers typically put in 50 hours a week, now they're lucky to work 40, he says.

"This is the worst year we've ever had since 1950," Baldwin said, adding that because financing for builders' projects has all but dried up, building contractors are finding only half the work they had six months ago. "There aren't enough jobs out there to do."

In theirstruggle to survive a weakened economy -- in which job security fears have pulled in the reins on consumer spending, unemployment claims have doubled in a year and county building permits have shrunk from 3,484 through September 1990 to 1,741 through September this year -- county businesses have cut costs wherever possible.

As in many parts of the country, Anne Arundel has felt the recession more severely in three 1980's boom areas -- finance, real estate/construction and defense -- and the hard times have trickled down to dependent businesses, said Samuel Minnitte, the county economic development director.

"It gets to be a question of who can hold their breath the longest,"said Chip Shreeve, a vice president with Greenhorne and O'Mara Inc.,an engineering, planning and surveying firm with an office in Annapolis.

Design work on new homes has dwindled, Shreeve said. Little commercial design work remains and virtually no industrial work. The slowdown has driven some of the firm's competitors out of business or forced them to operate on a smaller scale, he said.

Several of thecounty's larger private employers have laid off workers, including Westinghouse, USAir and Martin Marietta.

Westinghouse, the county'slargest private employer, notified 1,300 Maryland workers at the endof October, including 800 in Linthicum, that they'll lose their jobsDec. 30. The company included union jobs in the cuts, but union workers won't find out until Friday who keeps their jobs by virtue of seniority.

Westinghouse had announced the layoffs earlier, a result of defense cutbacks and reduced commercial and government orders. The layoffs came as part of a corporate move to cut costs by $200 millionnext year, company officials said.

With full-page ads in local newspapers, the company hopes to alert employers of the availability offormer Westinghouse accountants, administrators, secretaries, computer scientists, engineers and other positions.

At its outplacement center in Woodlawn, Westinghouse will help sharpen job-search and interviewing techniques, post job openings and offer individual counseling and workshops on financial planning, word processing and career change.

The company had opened a similar center in February, when 720 Linthicum workers lost jobs due to the Defense Department's cancellation of the Navy's A-12 attack aircraft program.

"We do believe that the majority of employees who sought employment do have new jobs," said spokesman Jack Martin Jr. "The job market is difficult, but wedo hope to be as successful as we were earlier this year in helping employees find employment."

At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, USAir flight cutbacks, which take effect early next year, have meant transfers, furloughs or jobs losses for 80 customer service workers, said airline spokesman Susan Young. Several hundred USAir workers at BWI lost their jobs last May, as part of layoffs affecting 7,000 airline workers nationwide.

Last month, USAir Group asked 2,500 workers at BWI -- including 1,700 unionized pilots, flight attendants and mechanics -- for a series of temporary pay cuts and other measures to offset a third-quarter loss of $84.4 million. The airline won't impose those cuts, part of an attempt to save $400 million in 1992, until it reaches an agreement with the first of three unions, Young said.

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