IM this article to a friend!

July 2, 2003

AT&T to close facility in Providence

From: Providence Journal Bulletin (subscription), RI - Jul 2, 2003

The approximately 100 employees will be offered jobs at other centers where calls are relayed for the deaf or hearing impaired.


Journal Staff Writer

About 100 AT&T employees in downtown Providence who service deaf and hearing-impaired callers will lose their jobs Aug. 29, one month before the company's lease at its La Salle Square office runs out.

The facility, opened in 1995, is one of seven AT&T centers in the United States where calls are relayed for people who are deaf or hearing impaired.

All of the work at the La Salle Square center will be consolidated into AT&T's relay centers in Scranton and New Castle, Pa., and Baltimore, Md., said AT&T spokeswoman Deborah Jones.

The 102 unionized employees at La Salle Square -- 98 communications assistants and 4 managers -- will be offered jobs at the three other relay centers, Jones said.

"We've looked at the various alternatives, including opening another center in Rhode Island," Jones said, "and we've determined it's really cost-prohibitive."

Jones said of AT&T's decision to leave the La Salle Square center, "The building owner has decided not to renew our lease and wants us out of the building by Sept. 30, and therefore we set the off-payroll date for the folks who are there for Aug. 29."

But Scott A. Fraser, a spokesman for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which owns the building, said "the original lease was due to expire on Jan. 31, 2004, but a tentative agreement was reached on negotiating an early end to the lease."

Fraser said he did not know why the lease was to end early. "I don't know who initiated that," he said. "I think AT&T had an option to let us know if they'd like to extend the lease. . . Whether they missed [the deadline] or chose not to exercise it, I don't know."

The space at La Salle Square will be used by Blue Cross employees, Fraser added.

AT&T has nearly 200 employees in Rhode Island, including the 102 at the La Salle Square center. By law, companies in Rhode Island employing 100 or more people that lay off a third or more of their work force must notify the state within 60 days of the job cuts.

Any of the 102 AT&T employees who choose not to relocate will be entitled to severance pay based upon their years of service and full medical benefits for one year, as well as financial assistance to return to school or start a business, Jones said. The severance and other benefits, she said, are part of the company's union contract with IBEW Local 2323.

William C. McGowan, business manger for the union, yesterday said that he hoped AT&T would reconsider its decision to move the jobs out of state. "Eight years ago, the State of Rhode Island and the union gave AT&T everything they wanted to locate here," he said. "Economic incentives. Parking at the Convention Center garage. Job training. Financial assistance."

Now, McGowan said, it appears that AT&T is "forsaking the community, forsaking the employees and picking up stakes and going elsewhere. It's just not fair. I guess it's a sign of corporate America these days but . . . the workers deserve a lot better."

He said that many of the La Salle Square employees are women, and many earn "at least $15 an hour."

McGowan said that Governor Carcieri has been supportive of the union's efforts to keep jobs in the state, and faxed a copy of a letter written by Michael McMahon, executive director of the state Economic Development Corporation, to David Dorman, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Corp.

The letter begins: "AT&T recently announced the relocation of its business from Providence, Rhode Island. Governor Donald Carcieri, a former CEO of a multinational company, understands the need to consolidate and streamline an organization in order to reduce costs in the current economic environment."

The letter goes on to request a meeting with AT&T officials to discuss "expanding business in our state while reducing costs. Our purpose in requesting this meeting is not to attempt to persuade you to reconsider the recent decision but rather to begin a dialogue that, hopefully, will convince key AT&T decision makers that it makes sense to expand business operations in Rhode Island."

The letter then lists the state's attributes, including "loyal workers," "affordable housing" and "labor leaders that work with employers rather than against them."

Copyright, Belo Interactive, Inc.