Employees Bitter After Meltdown

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Sitting at his desk at Enron Corp.'s 50-story world headquarters, Nathan Will knows his days are numbered, but he isn't worried about losing his job. He is worried about finding another.

"Am I tainted when I come out of here?" he asked Thursday. "Is an employer going to look at me and say, 'Oh, he worked at Enron'?"

The spectacular meltdown of what was once the world's biggest buyer and seller of energy has left employees bitter and bewildered.

The free-fall continued Thursday, with Enron stock sliding another 25 cents to a humiliating 36 cents a share after reaching more than $80 earlier this year. Analysts warned that bankruptcy was the only way out.

Many of Enron's 20,000 employees have already seen their retirement savings devastated because their 401(k) plans were invested heavily in Enron stock.

Enron -- an aggressive, even swaggering, player in the deregulated energy market -- suffered one of the swiftest, steepest falls ever seen on Wall Street, imploding in just a matter of weeks.

It collapsed after disclosing that executives had engaged in off-the-books business deals and that it had overstated profits by more than a half-billion dollars over the past four years.

Investors lost confidence and dumped their stock, causing Enron to lose tens of billions in value.

Houston-based energy marketer Dynegy had struck a deal to come to Enron's rescue, but the $8.4 billion takeover agreement came apart on Wednesday after Wall Street lowered Enron's credit rating to junk status.

The crash has left many investors and employees resentful of Enron's upper management.

"Most people feel as though they know they didn't have anything to do with it, so why are they essentially going to be punished?" said Will, who manages a trading desk for the company's broadband division and up until recently had boasted about working for Enron.

Bob Knudson of Omaha, Neb., a former employee who lost a significant amount of his family's retirement savings, said he wants answers from Enron's top management on why it let it all go down the tubes.

"The swiftness with which all this has happened, I don't think anybody, whether it is on Wall Street or Omaha, Neb., or Houston could have imagined," he said. "Even the analyst never saw it coming."

Enron has not announced any job cuts, saying in a statement that it would "work to retain the employees necessary to the continuing operations of our trading and other core energy businesses."

A group of Enron employees sued the company last week, alleging mismanagement by executives running the 401(k) plan resulted in huge losses in their retirement funds. The lawsuit says employees were encouraged to invest more heavily in Enron stock just before it tanked.

"Probably the worst thing is that people who have been with the company the longest amount of time had the most losses," Robin Harrison, an attorney for some of those employees.