County and state officials on Monday held the first of several workshops to offer services to hundreds of AT&T employees who will be laid off next month.
In one of the largest private sector layoffs in Merced County history, AT&T estimated 397 employees would lose their jobs Aug. 26, when the corporation closes two call centers at the former Castle Air Force Base in Atwater.
Merced County officials said Monday the number of layoffs has grown to 441. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.
Staff for state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, along with officials from Merced County Department of Workforce Investment and the state Employment Development Department were on hand to provide information and cite available resources to about 70 to 80 employees on Monday.
Similar morning and afternoon workshops are planned each day through Monday.
Less than an hour into Monday’s morning workshop, representatives of local politicians, including Cannella’s spokeswoman, and the news media were denied access to the AT&T building and told to leave the premises without an explanation.
A staff member for Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, also was told to leave.
“All I can say is AT&T told me to get you guys off the property,” a security guard told the Merced Sun-Star.
A request to speak to an AT&T manager on site was denied. An AT&T representative contacted Cannella’s chief of staff later Monday to apologize for prohibiting his representative from entering the building.
Theresa Hong, deputy communications director for Cannella, said the senator initiated the workshops to help the employees get back on their feet.
“His main concern is that everybody thinks of these people as numbers,” Hong said. “The numbers have faces and names and families to feed.”
Maria Sandoval, EDD regional manager for Merced, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Contra Costa counties, said the anticipated layoffs will have a “devastating” impact on the local economy. Many AT&T employees earn $14 to $19 an hour, she said, and they’re concerned about starting over at minimum wage.
“Our hope is that we can help them re-enter back into employment close to or with the potential of earning close to what they’re getting now,” Sandoval said, adding that her agency provided information about applying for unemployment benefits.
EDD officials offered AT&T employees résumé and interviewing workshops, but officials with the Department of Workforce Investment insisted that is their primary function.
When a company anticipates a large number of employee layoffs, a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification is sent to the Department of Workforce Investment. The department’s rapid response team then contacts the company representatives within 24 hours.
Director Robert Morris said his staff is first to respond to layoffs because they’re trained to provide comprehensive services such as skills assessments and one-on-one career coaching, a service that other agencies may not provide.
“That’s what we’re mandated to do,” Morris said. “In terms of résumé, interviewing, transitional skills – that’s the nature of the business we’re involved in.”