Kansas City, MO – Today (Friday Jan. 30th, 2009) is the last one on the job for some 850 people taking voluntary separation packages from Sprint-Nextel. In a lot of ways they're the lucky ones. Folks still working there will spend the next few weeks waiting to find out if they're among more than 7,000 others who will be laid off. Dozens of Sprint employees got together Thursday night at a bar across the street from the campus in Overland Park. KCUR's Frank Morris went too, and has this glimpse into what it's like to be leaving, and to be holding on, at Sprint.
In some circles at Sprint, Johnny's Tavern, on 119th Street, is known as Boardroom J close to work, but definitely not work.
Dozens were here last night to see off co-workers like Calvin Pettiecord, who opted for the voluntary separation package Sprint offered a couple of months ago.
Pettiecord: I took the package because it's going to give me a year's severance pay to start my own company. Give years worth of time to develop my own company.
Pettiecord, a tall, serious looking guy, says he's not naturally entrepreneurial, but this round of cuts at Sprint -the biggest ever- happens to be hitting at a particularly bad time for people like him, in information technology.
Pettiecord: With the economy and all the I.T. personnel and skill sets already out there looking for work. Yeah, it's going to hard transition. Those employees who do get laid off are going to have a rough time, no doubt about it. If you don't make your own way, you're going to have a rough time, you really are.
No need to tell that to any of 57-thousand Sprint employees, 12-thousand in grater Kansas City, waiting, as most will for the next two months, to find out if they're among the causalities.
Woman: I've never been worried before, but I'm starting to get worried now.
Sprint has asked its employees not to talk to reporters, so, let's just say it's "Jane", at a big table, drinking longnecks with her equally worried colleagues.
Woman: It's definitely scary. Because there aren't any other big companies that have the type of jobs that a lot of us in this room have. And if there are they're not hiring. Because we've all looked, everybody's looked. If there's anybody at Sprint who hasn't looked for a job, they probably should be.
"Jane" says she's stuck with Sprint through years of layoffs because she's paid well, and genuinely likes working there. You hear that a lot from Sprint employees, the few of them willing to talk to a reporter, anyhow. You also hear a lot of soul searching. Folks close to retirement just want to hang on long enough to get that vacation home. Many younger workers are taking a hard look at their options: School? Whole new career? Green energy, maybe. Because, as these two Sprint employees standing by their pints last night would tell you, the employment landscape is shifting in spooky ways.
Well before, usually, if you'd lose your job you have a field right so you can go and find a job in your field. Well now a days, the field is basically shrinking, because every other company is having the same problem. So, instead of just finding another job in your field, you kind have to look for a new field, and you know, there's not that much open space anymore to look for a new field, and you know, there's not that much open space anymore to look for a new field to start all over again.
Home Depot is laying off! I mean, construction's down because nobody wants to buy anything.
I was thinking about working at Home Depot, that would be a perfect job
Construction's down! Nobody wants to buy a new home because of the economy! You can't even go out and find a job as a constructionist.
So what do you fall back on? What do you fall back on?
Frans: Really? I don't have any idea.
Les Frans is no doubt the happiest looking guy in the entire bar. This beaming, grey haired 59-year-old is leaving Sprint after 23 years. He's taking the buyout. Frans says he wanted to go on his own terms which, at this point, are pretty easy.
Frans: I told my kids, I said, I don't care what I do, at my age, I could be a nice old man at McDonalds, and people would walk out and say, "what a nice guy".
The next couple of months will be tough ones for people still working at Sprint. They've pushed into the front line of American workers peering into this dark and mysterious "new economy."
Frans, to friends: I'M NOT GOING TO WORK IN ONE WITH A PLAY ROOM HAHAHAHA