Andersen Workers Ready for Layoffs
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HOUSTON (AP) _ The job at Arthur Andersen that Suzanne Alexander loves has become bittersweet in the fallout of the Enron Corp. collapse.
Like hundreds of other workers who never touched an Enron audit, Alexander _ director of tax operations in Andersen’s Houston office _ knows nothing about shredded documents and deleted computer files that left the firm facing a federal indictment, likely layoffs and a future that’s uncertain at best.
``I cherish this team, and we’re not going to be together much longer,″ Alexander, 41, said tearfully.
An Andersen source said layoffs would come Monday, but wouldn’t say how many of its 28,000 U.S. workers would be affected.
Several of Alexander’s 1,700 colleagues in the Houston office also are resigned that some or all of them will be gone.
Shirley Jensen, a human resources worker who is busier than usual these days, said the company is helping employees prepare for job searches while answering questions about health insurance and severance pay. Next week the Houston office will provide an in-house seminar on resume preparation.
Some even catch themselves speaking of their jobs in the past tense.
``I loved what I did _ what I do,″ said Katherine Schwab, 30, who joined Andersen’s marketing unit more than a year ago.
``The reality is, people are looking for jobs. The reality is, people are in dire straits,″ said Amy Collier, 26, one of Schwab’s marketing colleagues. ``But at least there are programs in place to help us.″
That sentiment is widespread among the various Andersen units spread over 14 floors of a downtown Houston skyscraper. Employees describe Andersen as a family-friendly firm, going so far as to stock the supply room with crayons to occupy children when they come to the office with their parents.
For weeks after Andersen disclosed the document destruction to federal prosecutors and the public in early January, workers remained silent during the firm’s fervent efforts to negotiate a settlement with the government that would avert an indictment.
Bill Gahagan, director of Andersen’s financial operations for the Gulf Coast area, said the shredding disclosure hit him hard and he is frustrated at facing unemployment after devoting 35 years to a firm known for quality and integrity.
``We’re beginning to see all that come to an end,″ he said.
The indictment for obstruction of justice was unsealed March 14. Prosecutors say Andersen’s Enron audit team launched a mass document destruction effort last October after learning of a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into Enron’s finances. The energy trader later collapsed in a maze of alleged accounting abuses, leaving thousands jobless and their retirement accounts eroded.
Andersen has pleaded innocent and a trial is set for May 6.
More than 130 public clients in the U.S. have since bolted from Andersen, more than two-thirds since the firm was indicted. No individuals have been charged.
Schwab said workers are particularly frustrated that Andersen has felt such a large impact while neither Enron nor any of its executives have been charged.
``The hardest thing to see right now is that while we face this indictment and dissolution of the firm, a handful of people at Enron are sitting at home,″ she said. ``People see us as indicted, and that we’re the cause.″
Hundreds of employees responded to the indictment by gathering outside Houston’s federal courthouse March 20. Andersen workers in other cities held similar demonstrations that day. The Chicago-based firm has published full-page advertisements in major newspapers as well.
But the Houston office, where prosecutors say most of the shredding took place, has made the efforts more personal.
Employees have mounted sheets of butcher paper on a wall near elevator banks in their lobby, below Andersen’s nameplate. Workers have since written on the ``Wall About Us″ hundreds of messages, some quoting the Bible, the Beatles and Martin Luther King Jr.
Messages include ``Let me keep my job!″ and ``We are innocent. We are united. One people, one firm.″
``People are thinking of it as a separation of family,″ said partner Warren White, 40. ``Our competitors won’t be able to say they’ve been through the hell we’ve been through, and we’re better for it.″
Business Writer Dave Carpenter in Chicago contributed to this report.