Enron Releases 4,000 Employees

Enron Corp. laid off about 4,000 employees Monday, a day after the former energy trading giant filed for bankruptcy protection.

Most of the job cuts were at the company's Houston headquarters, where the remaining 3,500 or so workers were sent home and told Enron would call later to tell them whether to return Tuesday, spokeswoman Karen Denne said.

Employees were informed during four large meetings Monday morning.

Their reaction ranged from anger and frustration directed at Enron's management to fear and uncertainty about how they would be able to support their families while looking for new jobs in a soft economy.

"It's three weeks before Christmas, and I have nothing," said Joann Matson, a human resources coordinator who was let go. "I thought we deserved to be treated better. It's devastating."

Employees carrying boxes, plants, Enron mugs and other personal items began filing out of the company's headquarters before noon Monday.

The steady and slow stream of vehicles that motored on a narrow side street in front of one of the building's entrances, where somber employees waited for rides home, resembled a funeral procession.

As Houston police officers — on foot, horseback and in patrol cars — observed and directed traffic, employees hauled their belongings into backseats and car trunks and drove away into uncertain futures.

"If I have to work three jobs, I'm going to do that to get back on my feet," said Tammie Huthmacher.

But Huthmacher, 27, said that although her husband works, the loss of her job will make it very difficult for her family to pay its bills and they might have to file for bankruptcy themselves.

"I blame Enron for this. The employees did a good job. This is in no way a reflection of us," said Huthmacher, who is six months' pregnant and is unsure whether she still has health insurance.

While Pete Chase, who worked for Enron Energy Services, was upset at losing his job, he also felt a responsibility to the small retail companies he worked closely with who have not been paid for work or equipment they supplied to Enron.

An information sheet distributed to laid-off employees said each would receive a $4,500 severance package pending a ruling from a Manhattan bankruptcy court.

However, Michelle Robichaux, 39, who worked for Enron's retail electrical sales department and had been with the company 10 years, said she's not counting on the money.

"I'm not confident we'll see that money," she said.

Like many other employees, Robichaux and Matson also lost a bundle because of Enron's stock free-fall, which in one year has plunged from the mid-$80s to around the cost of a first-class postage stamp.

Robichaux lost a little under $1 million because of the freefall by Enron stock. She had Enron stock options, had bought stock through an employee purchasing program and she was one of the many company employees retirement plans were was greatly devalued because they were invested heavily in Enron stock. Matson's $70,000 in stock options also evaporated.

Several workers reported they were given 30 minutes to clear out. Others said all fired employees were expected to be off the premises by early afternoon.

Downtown Houston, which employs an estimated 150,000, lost nearly 3 percent of its work force with the cuts.

Enron, one of the world's largest corporations and a giant in the energy trading field, has imploded in recent weeks after the company admitted its former chief financial officer employed questionable accounting practices and that executives were allowed to profit from partnerships that also allowed Enron to keep a half billion in debt off its books.

Rival and Houston neighbor Dynegy Inc. agreed to buy the embattled company last month, but the deal fell through after Enron's credit rating was lowered to junk status. Enron filed for bankruptcy Sunday and sued Dynegy for breach of contract.

Dynegy countersued and maintains it was within its rights to pull out.