Local News

Laid-off Nortel workers lose benefits

Posted January 17, 2009 4:59 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Recently laid-off Nortel worker Robert Miller said he learned from a co-worker that his severance package would be cut off at the end of January.

Miller was among the 1,300 workers laid off by Nortel Networks in late 2008. On Friday, a Nortel spokesman confirmed to WRAL News that the company would cease severance and insurance benefits for laid-off employees Jan. 31.

The announcement came two days after Nortel, which employs some 2,000 people in the Triangle area, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Some former employees said they learned about the change from a telephone call.

“At least have enough respect to tell us upfront that this is what’s going on,” Miller said.

Miller, a data networks worker, started at the telecommunications company in 1985. He was let go in 2002 but rehired in 2003. He was laid off again in December as part of corporate cutbacks.

“They had started outsourcing a lot of work to India,” Miller said.

Since Miller took a severance package after his first lay-off, his most recent package was based on his service since 2003. Miller said he took solace in knowing he would get full pay and benefits, as part of the package, through April.

“Cutting off everybody’s severance…after they laid them off with no notice or anything like that kinda makes me angry,” Miller said.

Company spokesman Jay Barta described the cutbacks as “tough but necessary.”

"As Nortel goes through the restructuring process there will be impacts on employees,” Barta said. “We know this is difficult news for employees whose contributions have been, and continue to be, key to Nortel's innovation. This is a tough but necessary step as we restructure to put Nortel on sound financial footing once and for all."

Those few months of severance pay could be the difference between making it or not, Miller said.

“If I can get a half-way decent paying job, we get to keep our house,” he said.

Analysts say the bankruptcy filing gives Nortel time to restructure but believe more layoffs are inevitable.