LUCENT Technologies may have to rehire workers

Wednesday, May 30th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Lucent Technologies Inc. may have to rehire workers it laid off in March after more than twice the number of workers it asked to voluntarily leave enlisted, officials said.

Early in May, Lucent had asked for 400 volunteers for early retirement and set a Tuesday deadline. Instead, 900 people signed up, officials said.

The unexpected number of volunteers was partly because of job uncertainty, a union spokesman said. Lucent, the parent company, had been in sale negotiations, at least until they were called off Tuesday.

Also, the early retirement incentive package was attractive to workers, since some could get well more than $100,000 to retire, plus other benefits.

``We obviously regard this as a generous package,'' said Al Rodgers, Lucent plant spokesman. ``They seem to appreciate it.''

He said a final retirement count may be known by Thursday.

The Oklahoma City plant at one time employed more than 4,000. In January, it announced it would lay off 450 in March.

Of the 3,800 people employed, about 3,100 are production and clerical workers from whom the 400 volunteers were sought. But if all 900 leave, only about 2,900 total would remain.

Some volunteered because they were worried about the sale of their workplace, said Troy Johnson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2021 in Oklahoma City.

The New Jersey-based parent company Alcatel, based in France, had discussed merging but both announced Tuesday the deal was canceled

To qualify for the retirement package, an employee could be as young as 50, Johnson said. Some workers may be eligible to retire as early as age 45 because the company agreed to allow an applicant to add either five years to age or five years to service.

Although there is no typical retirement package, Johnson said, a worker with 32 years service will get between $90,000 and $130,000. In addition, workers get pension and medical benefits.

``It's huge for a lot of people,'' Johnson said.

Lucent originally had only wanted 400 to take advantage of the offer, but backed off that number during negotiations, Johnson said. Now that twice as many have accepted the offer, he said, Lucent may have to scramble to operate the plant.

The exodus leaves about 2,200 in production.

Present production levels might mean hiring between 200 and 500 people, he said.

Lucent plant spokewoman Gail Stallings said the plant may hire from the ranks of Lucent workers dismissed in the involuntary layoff in March.

``If we had to hire, the first thing we would do would be recall some of those who were laid off. They have first rights on those jobs, if there were any,'' Stallings said.

Analysts expect the sale of Lucent's plants in Oklahoma City and Columbus, Ohio, to happen. A Singapore company, Flextronics, is said to be bidding as much as $900 million for the two plants.

Lucent is Oklahoma City's largest private employer under one roof. It makes room-sized telephone switching equipment.

The company has about 5,000 at the Ohio plant, a source of wireless communications equipment.