1,000 Valley jobs lost as Washington Mutual makes call-center shift

first_imgCHATSWORTH – Unemployed for two years, Erica Couts of North Hollywood finally landed a job and started back to work Monday at Washington Mutual’s call center. It was only a temporary job – and now she knows just how temporary. Thursday, the banking institution announced it will eliminate 1,000 of its 3,000 positions at the Chatsworth facility and move the jobs to Costa Rica and San Antonio, Texas, where costs are lower. “I feel horrible,” Couts said. “They told me sometime in April would be my last day.” The job loss was just as tough on North Hollywood resident Gerald R. Athey, who began training for a new call-center position Monday. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card “I was unemployed for three months and went through a lot of my savings,” said Athey, who hopes to get by for the next couple of months working at the call center while trying to land another job. “It’s better than being unemployed. I’ll have some income while I’m looking for work.” The decision by Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. to cut about 33 percent of its local work force deals a harsh blow to the San Fernando Valley economy. Employees got the news in small-group meetings. Some workers will be offered the opportunity to transfer, but the exact number has not been determined, said company spokesman Gary Tishner. The majority of the jobs will go to San Antonio. Bruce Ackerman, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, accepted the decision with stoicism. “I’ve been fearful that we were going to see that because they had been talking about consolidation. I’m obviously not happy about it, to see those jobs disappear.” Ackerman said it was a financial decision and not likely to have a ripple effect throughout the Valley’s call-center sector. The alliance offers a custom training program for call centers and Ackerman said interest in it remains strong. Diana Rubio, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, said he was disappointed about the job loss. “He is very passionate about every single job in the city and those jobs will be replaced with good-paying jobs,” she said. Washington Mutual currently operates in 12 buildings totaling 1 million square feet of space in Chatsworth, north and south of Prairie Street between Winnetka and Corbin avenues. The company does not expect to scale back further, Tishner said. “There are no plans to close down the Chatsworth facility. There are still many people employed here and it’s an important facility to us,” he said. An effort will be made to find work elsewhere in the company for workers who lose their call-center jobs and retraining will be offered along with a severance package. The job move is simply a way for the firm to save money, Tishner said. Historically known for an economy based on tourism and the military, San Antonio and Texas state officials had been courting Washington Mutual and won a nationwide competition for the company’s business. Late last year, Washington Mutual moved some operations into the former MCI WorldCom Southwest headquarters building on the north side of the city. The San Antonio Express-News on Thursday said the city and county provided $3.4 million worth of tax incentives and the state contributed a $15 million grant to win Washington Mutual over. “San Antonio has been actively trying to grow its finance industry. They’re high-paying jobs, there’s no pollution that you would have from a manufacturing industry and it’s a way to diversify the economy,” said J.J. Saulino, spokesman for San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger. The company plans to move 3,000 to 5,000 jobs to the city, he said, adding: “That is good news.” This is probably not the last job move for Washington Mutual. The company said it has ambitious growth plans and, to achieve them, expects to relocate more of its operations to lower-cost domestic markets and increase its use of offshore resources. Currently, 1,600 jobs are with offshore vendors and that could grow to more than 6,000 over the next two years, the company said. Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., said companies are constantly under pressure to cut costs. “The loss of a thousand jobs is always painful,” he said. “It’s a hurly-burly world, some good news and some bad news.” Gregory J. Wilcox, (818) 713-3743 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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