1,200 Westinghouse workers fretting Company's efforts help those being laid off get benefits, new jobs


One week after Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group cut 1,200 jobs at its plants in Maryland, terminated employees are looking for work and trying to understand their benefits with the help of a resource center the company set up in Woodlawn.

Some employees, such as Ronald Castle, worry about having to sell their homes. At 53, Castle frets that another company may hesitate to hire him because of his age.

Castle, who was a supervisor in the Advanced Technology Division, worked for Westinghouse for 31 years. He said he is frustrated because the company has not yet been able to tell him the exact amount of his pension benefits. "I can't determine what I'm going to do until I know what I'm entitled to," he said.

Castle said he had planned to retire in five years. When he was let go last week, he said, "I was amazed."

So was Jerri Murphy, who also was a supervisor in the Advanced Technology Division who had worked for Westinghouse for 23 years. "I never expected it," she said. "I got into management where I thought I would be judged on my merits."

Murphy, 45, said she will be unable to continue to meet her mortgage payments after losing her $41,000-a-year job. She is thinking about selling her house in Severna Park and moving out of the area.

"My whole life was Westinghouse," she said.

The Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group told workers last Friday that they would lose their jobs as the result of the Pentagon's cancellation of the Navy's A-12 program. Westinghouse was a subcontractor hired to develop and manufacture radar and infared systems for the fighter aircraft.

Immediately after the terminations were announced, Westinghouse set up a 24-hour hot line to answer workers' questions. On Wednesday, the company placed full-page advertisements in newspapers in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington, and York, Pa., alerting companies about the availability of laid-off workers.

"We don't want to see these dependable, loyal workers go without jobs," the ad said. Workers are available with experience in accounting, administration, clerical, computer science, engineering, human resources, marketing, manufacturing, purchasing, quality assurance, logistics and other areas.

Jack Martin, a Westinghouse spokesman, said that on the day the ads appeared the company received more than 100 calls from employers interested in the workers. "We were delighted with the initial response," he said.

Job openings from those callers and other employers are being posted in the resource center Westinghouse established to help the terminated workers find new jobs and understand their benefits. The large office is staffed with counselors from the company's human resources department. Representatives of the Maryland Department of Employment and Economic Development are there to help with unemployment insurance claims.

Workers can receive job information, advice on how to prepare resumes and look for work, and counseling on how to cope with stress. Telephones and computers have been provided and a fax machine is to be installed.

Ronald Windsor, an administrator of the Economic Dislocation Services section of DEED, praised Westinghouse for its efforts to help its workers. "I've dealt with closures and mass layoffs throughout the state, and what Westinghouse has set up is real top notch," he said.

But Ronald Chunn, 50, an engineer who worked at Westinghouse for 27 years, was disappointed. He said he made an appointment with a counselor on Monday and was kept waiting for more than two hours. "The resource center was in a state of chaos," he said.

Many of the Westinghouse workers at the center are "very, very young employees who have been out of college only a couple years," and were unable to explain the details of his benefit package, he said.

But besides concerns about his benefits, Chunn has another question. He wants to understand why he was laid off. "I'm still reeling from the shock of being let go," he said. Like many of the terminated employees, Chunn never worked on the A-12 program.

Despite his disappointment, Chunn seemed upbeat about the prospects for other work. "I'm 50, I have lots of skills and lots of talent and there are a lot of people out there who could use my talents," he said.

Employees interviewed as they were leaving the resource center yesterday generally expressed gratitude toward Westinghouse for its efforts to help them find work.

"A lot of other companies wouldn't be doing this for us," said Lisa Schulz, who worked six years at the company in maintenance.

"You couldn't really ask for a better company to work for," said Kim Crouch, who also worked in maintenance for six years.

An assembly worker came out of the center yesterday afternoon smiling after seeing a number of job openings posted in his field. "I'm pretty happy," he said. "If people are complaining, they're just not utilizing all the things in there."

Martin said the company was to establish a phone line starting today.

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