Gov. Jerry Brown’s top employment development official made an appearance at the AT&T call center Tuesday to address the looming layoffs of more than 400 workers.
Patrick Henning Jr., director of the state Employment Development Department, said he was contacted by Merced County legislators to meet with some of the more than 400 AT&T employees who will lose their jobs when two call centers close next month.
Officials scheduled 11 workshops this week to give AT&T employees information about job-related services offered by the county Department of Workforce Investment and the EDD.
Staff members for state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, and Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno, were present at the workshops this week, which are scheduled twice a day through Monday.
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Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, attended Tuesday’s workshop with Henning. Gray, who called the planned closure a “major setback,” said he contacted Henning last month immediately after learning about the impending layoffs.
“The one thing we can do to make this a little bit easier is help the employees navigate the (EDD) system,” Gray said. “We’re here to make sure our constituents can access the state resources and take advantage of job retraining and education opportunities.”
Henning, who was appointed by the governor three months ago, said this is the first time he’s visited a corporation in the midst of layoffs. The AT&T workers were given information about applying for unemployment insurance, updating their résumés and interviewing skills, as well as labor market information that shows which industries are hiring in Merced.
Dignity Health, Foster Farms and the Merced Union High School District are the top employers that are hiring in Merced County, Henning said. The top jobs are registered nurses, heavy tractor-trailer truck drivers and retail sales workers.
By identifying which companies are hiring, Henning said, AT&T employees can retrain or learn new skills to match the job openings.
“I’m a big believer in skills update,” Henning said. “We understand the realities of the job market here, but I’m very hopeful that the employees can stay in Merced. I think that the region and the area stand to gain a lot in the near future.”
Henning said state high-speed rail, UC Merced and possibly a Tesla Motors battery plant could boost the area’s job market. “The area needs to take full use of the UC being in the region and build around that,” he said.
Security guards denied the news media access to the AT&T property for a second time Tuesday, telling the Merced Sun-Star the corporation directed them to “kick the press out.” Gray’s campaign manager invited the Sun-Star to the workshop.
An AT&T representative contacted the Sun-Star later Tuesday to provide a statement via email.
“It’s our longstanding policy not to allow media in our facilities for a private meeting like this,” wrote AT&T spokesman Marty Richter. “We didn’t have any notice that you were coming (on Monday) or we could have discussed that with you before you came out.”
The workshops are closed to the public to offer privacy to the employees, Richter said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He said AT&T scheduled the meetings at the Atwater call center to provide employees with better access to information and resources.
“Having them (EDD) on site was one small way to help with the transition process,” Richter said, “rather than directing them to make individual contacts for the information.”
All AT&T call center employees will receive a severance package, Richter said, but only union workers were offered an incentive to relocate to a call center in Southern California, Colorado, Washington or Iowa.
It’s unclear how many people accepted the relocation offer, Richter said. Employees had until July 15 to decide.