2 firms give out layoff notices

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two major employers in the Baltimore region yesterday notified workers of job-cutting plans that could affect as many as 325 people.

Comcast Corp., the region's leading cable television company, will dismiss about 125 workers at its division office in White Marsh - about three-quarters of the office's staff - in the coming months. And Federated Department Stores Inc., which owns Macy's and Hecht's among others, plans in June to shutter a Baltimore distribution center that employs 200 people, though it is still unclear how many employees will lose their jobs or be offered transfers.

"We'll be working with employees determining what their interests might be and looking at what other positions might be available," said Federated spokesman Jim Sluzewski.

Federated plans to close five of its 31 distribution centers, affecting about 850 workers nationwide in an effort to defray some of the $1 billion expense associated with its acquisition of May Department Stores last year. The Baltimore distribution center, along with one in Harford County that will remain open, previously belonged to May.

About 40 of the Comcast office's 167 employees will continue to work for the company in another capacity, said spokesman Jim Gordon.

Gordon added that the number of laid-off workers is changing daily, as Comcast looks for ways to employ them in other parts of the company in Maryland and around the country. Comcast employs more than 3,000 workers in Maryland.

"These are talented professionals, and Comcast is going to continue to work with each individual throughout the process," Gordon said.

The layoffs are part of Comcast's previously announced move to merge its Mid-Atlantic and Eastern divisions as it prepares to integrate Adelphia Communications Corp. and Time Warner Inc. divisions, Gordon said. The eastern division will include cable systems in Philadelphia, central Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, Virginia and New Jersey.

Comcast and Time Warner announced last year that they planned to buy the assets of bankrupt Adelphia and divide its cable systems between them. The companies also said that they would swap some of their cable systems to improve their clusters of subscribers. The deal is awaiting court and regulatory approval.

Philip Remek, an equity analyst who covers media stocks for Florida-based investment bank Guzman & Co., said the announcement reflected planning for the integration of Adelphia and is not indicative of any larger problems with the company.

"Comcast is generating lots of free cash flow right now and investing in new initiatives, and they have attempted to improve customer service in the last couple of years," Remek said.

The division office in White Marsh employs workers in human resources, marketing, operations, engineering, public relations and government relations, Gordon said. The company will continue to maintain a presence in White Marsh, where it has several offices - including one where day-to-day operations for Maryland are run, a regional call center and a customer service lobby.

Workers who were given notice of the layoffs yesterday will continue to work for 60 days at full salary and benefits. Comcast also will provide career counseling and resume workshops and will invite recruiting firms to the company to help workers find new jobs, Gordon said.

Those details are still being worked out for the Federated workers, who store and route "small ticket and big ticket" items for Hecht's stores in the center's 421,000 square feet of space, Sluzewski said.

Shares of Comcast closed unchanged yesterday at $28.19. Federated shares rose 47 cents to close at $71.92.

stacey.hirsh@baltsun.com tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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