HOUSTON – They lost their jobs, and many of them their retirement, but laid-off Enron employees say the energy company has given them one thing that is helping them survive its swift and stunning downfall: resolve.
"What was unique about Enron is even in the throes of bankruptcy we felt like we were the New York Yankees and that we can still win in the ninth inning," said John Allario, who said he lost tens of thousands of dollars in stock as well as his job.
"There was this 'not until the last out are we out,' and even when the last out came and we went into bankruptcy ... the same attitude pervaded the company and the people stayed there and said we are going to win this game," he said.
But Enron was losing millions, and in a matter of weeks, it went from being among the nation's top 10 companies, in terms of revenue, to filing the largest bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.
Investors and traders alike evaporated amid revelations of questionable partnerships that helped keep billions of dollars in debt off Enron's books and the company's acknowledgment that it overstated profits for four years. Enron stock fell from a peak of $90 a year ago to less than a dollar.
The company sought protection from creditors on Sunday after Dynegy Inc. backed out of a planned takeover amid worries about Enron's finances and deteriorating business. On Monday, the company laid of Allario and 4,000 other employees, most of them at its Houston headquarters.
On Friday, 200 more employees were cut from the company's prized power trading unit, Enron Americas, taking the total cuts to 25 percent of Enron's 21,000-member work force.
Spokesman Mark Palmer said the latest cuts were necessary so the company could maintain a cost effective operation while in bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy hasn't been bad to everyone however. The Houston Chronicle, in its Saturday editions, cited documents saying that among about 500 workers who were to share $55 million to stick around, a select 11 were to get more than a quarter of the money.
Four employees were to get more than $1 million. John Lavorato, president of chief executive of Enron Americas, was to get $5 million, the Chronicle reported.
Enron declined comment on the newspaper's list.
"It's vital to have people running the business if you're going to keep the business running," a spokesperson said.
For those who weren't considered vital to the operation, one former employee said, it's time to move on.
"It's a shock to all of us really," said Richard Britton, 27, who talked with recruiters and potential employers at a gathering for Enron workers Friday at a Houston bar.
"This was a place where I thought I could hang my hat and stay a while," he said. "But you can't dwell on it and be sad about it. You have to move on, because we've all got bills to pay."
Bills are among Wendy Hiatt's biggest concerns after going from making $70,000 a year to nothing since Monday. The 35-year-old already has made plans to move in with her sister.
Shane Lakho, 47, is in a similar position. She's turning off her television cable, canceling her pest control and trying to figure out how she's going to recover from losing more than $200,000 in Enron stock and her retirement plan that she had built over 15 years at the company.
"Enron's employees have gotten the short end of the stick in the sudden collapse of this company and we are committed to doing everything we can to help them," U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said on Wednesday.
Her department is investigating Enron's handling of its workers' 401(k) plans. The Securities and Exchange Commission also has been investigating Enron, and investors and employees have sued. Congressional leaders announced hearings next week to examine Enron's collapse.
For laid off Enron employees like Lakho and Hector Ruiz, however, investigations won't help them find jobs. That's a matter they're having to take into their own hands.
Ruiz is among a group of former Enron employees who developed a Web site to help others find job openings and network with potential employers through gathering's like the one Friday.
"That's what this is all about," Ruiz said. "It's to help ourselves and help others find jobs. We've got nothing else to do and you can't sit at home and watch (Jerry) Springer all day."