Bank of America Starts Fleet Staff Layoffs

Bank of America Corp. (BAC) laid off an unspecified number of employees on Wednesday at hundreds of Fleet Bank branches, a byproduct of the two banks' merger, a company spokeswoman said.

A published report said 1,500 or more jobs could be affected, and Connecticut's attorney general questioned whether Bank of America had lied when it promised not to cut Fleet jobs. The Boston Globe, citing company documents it obtained and Fleet branch managers who were notified, reported the cuts in Wednesday's editions.

Bank of America spokeswoman Eloise Hale declined to say how many jobs were being cut but confirmed some layoffs were occurring Wednesday as part of the North Carolina bank's merger with FleetBoston Financial Corp (search).

Hale said laid-off employees were advised Wednesday that they would no longer have jobs by day's end.

"We realize this is a difficult situation for our associates," she said. "These associates are receiving very attractive severance packages."

Depending on length of service, the package includes 17 to 48 weeks of severance pay for employees making less than $75,000 a year.

Hale stuck with the bank's earlier statements about the merger's impact on staffing across the combined company.

"We have said from the very beginning that there would be 12,500 cuts as a result of the merger," she said. "We continue to say that."

Those cuts are expected to occur over two years, affecting about 7 percent of the combined companies' work force of 181,000. Fleet had about 47,000 employees before the merger closed in the spring.

Hale said Bank of America was adjusting staffing at Fleet branches as a result of the merger, with some losing jobs and others gaining.

The Globe said Bank of America is in the process of converting Fleet's 1,500 branches to its own model, which uses fewer full-time staff members per branch.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal issued a statement criticizing the layoffs and asking Bank of America for the exact numbers of layoffs and a list of the affected Fleet branches.

"The commitments made to me, both oral and written, were clear and concise: Current employment levels will be kept constant, if not increased, and no overall staffing numbers will be cut," he said.

The statement concluded, "We expect Bank of America to honor this promise, and will rigorously scrutinize these layoffs to make sure that they do."

Bank of America's Hale responded, "We will meet our commitment over time. Employment levels will drop in the short term, but we will over time grow employment levels as we grow in the market."

After completing its $48 billion acquisition of Fleet, Bank of America temporarily maintained the Fleet name in the Northeast as it began integrating the two companies.

This week, it began renaming Fleet branches in upstate New York before moving on to other parts of the Fleet territory over the next few months.

Bank of America shares gained 57 cents to close at $87.45 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange (search).