MILTON-FREEWATER -- The city's largest private employer filed notice Thursday it plans to eliminate 336 jobs, bringing both a sense of fear and dja-vu about the potential loss to the community of 6,600 people.
According to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing, Sykes Enterprises Inc. will cut jobs at its call center on the hill Jan. 15.
"Our business, the way it is, there are times when we have to adapt to the market and client needs," said Andrea Burnett, Sykes corporate public relations manager. "Fortunately, we have experienced tremendous growth over the last two years. There is still demand for outsourcing solutions, both with current clients and also new ones."
Burnett emphasized the plant is not closing. She said company officials are trying to secure new business so that the layoffs are not permanent.
Milton-Freewater City Manager Linda Hall said this morning she is optimistic the filing is an indicator that several of Sykes' major client contracts are set to expire and the company filed the notice to meet legal requirements of the WARN Act while it negotiates new contracts.
This is the third time the Florida-based call center has announced a massive layoff -- and potential shutdown -- since opening in Milton-Freewater 10 years ago.
Under federal regulations, companies with 100 or more employees working over 20 hours a week are required to give notice of a mass layoff during any 30-day period for 50-499 employees if they make up at least 33 percent of the employer's active workforce. Regulations are also in place for notification in case of plant closures and losses of 500 or more positions.
The most recent such filing by Sykes came in March 2004, when the company gave its 60-day notice to its roughly 300 employees that the company would close. In the weeks following, Sykes secured contract extensions to keep the plant going before announcing later that year it would remain open indefinitely.
The plant is one of the largest -- if not the largest -- employer in the community. It was attracted to the area not only for its strong college presence but also because of a $3.5 million incentive package brokered by the city.
Burnett said this morning the ebb and flow of employment is largely due to the cyclical nature of the company's contracts.
As recently as Thursday the company was advertising for full-time customer service representatives. According to that ad, Sykes has more than 550 employees and is "still growing." Burnett said the company will continue to advertise for local positions because within the plant, the customer service reps work on behalf of different clients, such as financial or communications clients.
The number of employees facing layoffs are those who represent contracts that are set to expire, she said. Burnett said those employees could apply for other customer service positions for which the company is hiring.
Hall said she remains optimistic about Sykes' future in Milton-Freewater. "The whole picture makes me feel a lot more hopeful," she said.
Should new contracts not emerge, the impact of more than 300 lost jobs would be devastating, she said.
"That's a lot of people to be out looking for work when our ag-based jobs are gearing back for the winter and heating bills are getting higher and the holidays are coming," Hall said. "It couldn't come at a worse time obviously."
Between now and the start of the year, she plans to do more than keep her fingers crossed.
"I've got everything I have crossed," she said.