Gloom & doom for remaining WorldCom staff

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The several hundred Colorado Springs WorldCom workers laid off last month have partly reconciled their fate; those still employed say in the wake of the firm’s bankruptcy filing they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“It’s like the sun won’t come up,” said Barbara, still employed, but suffering from stress and depression and fearing the unknown. She will not talk to a reporter anywhere near the MCI call center where she works, fearful of retribution.

“I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job, but in a way I’ll be relieved if I do – at least I’ll know what’s ahead,” she said.

Barbara isn’t her first name, and she refused to give her last name. She was planning to purchase a small condominium for herself and her two children. “We really want a place of our own,” she said. “We share one bedroom now.”

The condominium purchase is off, so is the cable television she wanted. She is going to keep driving her 1989 Mazda. In fact, she said, she is going to save every penny, because if she is laid off, she will need the money for rent and food. Her first-grader isn’t going to get many new clothes this fall, and she’ll have to pull her toddler out of the franchised day-care. He will be dropped off at a neighbor’s house, where the woman takes care of three other kids.

Barbara is stressed about the prospect of losing her job; those who have already lost their jobs may also be suffering from depression – a serious condition resulting from significant loss that may result in additional woes.

Dr. Randal Beaton, a research professor in the Department of Psychosocial and Community Health at the University of Washington School of Nursing, said first reactions to losing a job are likely to be very similar to the grieving process when someone dear to you dies.

He says the first stage of this grief reaction might be denial: thinking that this simply cannot be happening. His studies of work-related health problems show there are steps one can take the moment your job loss becomes evident.

“Take a deep breath, keep your wits about you, try to stay in the present and don’t feel overwhelmed,” Beaton advises. “I think it’s very important for people to get past that initial stage as quickly as possible, and focus on using whatever resources are available.”

Those resources might include severance pay, health insurance benefits, unemployment insurance, counseling and job placement.

WorldCom still employs about 5,700 workers in Colorado, with an operations center and telemarketing site in Colorado Springs, and an MCI facility near Denver.

Losing employment is an unpleasant side effect during a restructuring bankruptcy, but in the end, it could enable WorldCom to find a way to stay in business, some say.

“The advantage to everybody in this situation is that WorldCom can now take a look at things strategically and not make decisions based on ridiculously high cash demands,” said Rocky Scott, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation. “The cash bleeding has stopped, there’s a credit line in place, and existing cash flows that will keep the company alive, allowing it to reposition itself,” he told a reporter.

Yet, the effect on the city’s economy is going to show up in many bottom lines. Those who have already lost jobs are going to cut back on expenditures, and even those still employed, like Barbara, are going to watch their spending.

Scott said the trickle-down effect of WorldCom’s layoff could cost another 250 people in the community jobs. In all, he said, the economy could lose over $52 million not spent on things like entertainment and other purchases.

According to the EDC, if MCI were to fire 1,250 workers, the long-term cost to the region’s economy could result in the lost of $155 million in taxable revenue.