WorldCom Fund Helping Laid Off Employees

A group collecting money for former WorldCom employees cut its first check this week, sending out $1,500 to pay rent for an Oklahoma woman behind on her bills.

The ex-WorldCom Employee Assistance Fund has collected about $8,000 in donations and returned political contributions, said the group's treasurer, Kate Lee. WorldCom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 21 after the company reported $7.1 billion in bogus accounting.

The company laid off 17,000 workers in June. Ex-employees organized after the June layoffs. Their Web site allows them to vent, offer support and pass on job opening notices, Lee said.

The site and relief fund is patterned after those established by a group of former Enron workers. Lee, who was laid off from her WorldCom job in Atlanta, said the woman in Oklahoma would have been evicted from her apartment without the financial aid. Lee did not identify the recipient by name.

"Oh God, they're so grateful, I just can't tell you,'' Lee said. The Oklahoma woman "is just overwhelmed by the situation she's been placed in.''

Lee will write checks for four or five others this week. Some 80 laid off workers - several of whom are in Mississippi - are on a waiting list for assistance, she said.

A similar fund for Enron employees has given out $375,000 in assistance to 304 ex-employees of the Houston-based energy company, said Rebekah Rushing, chairwoman of the Enron Ex-Employee Relief Fund Account. Some 450 ex-Enron employees are on the waiting list for help, she said.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent the WorldCom fund $4,000 this week. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, has committed $3,500, Lee said. Rep. Ronnie Shows, D-Miss., has made a campaign issue over WorldCom donations with 3rd District opponent Rep.

Chip Pickering, R-Miss. Shows' spokesman Troy Colbert said Wednesday that Shows is giving the $6,000 he's received in WorldCom donations to the ex-employee fund.

"Congressman Shows has been saying all along that this is the employees' money,'' Colbert said. "I think it shows compassion for people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.''

Pickering has received some $82,000 in donations from employees of the now-bankrupt company based in Clinton. Spokesman Henry Barbour said Pickering will return the $5,000 in funds received from two WorldCom executives who have been charged in connection with the company's bogus accounting.

Pickering wants to return the $5,000 to Mississippi workers, Barbour said, but the congressman does not plan to return the other $77,000. He said all the donated money came from WorldCom workers.

"Why should employees of WorldCom not be able to contribute to the candidate of their choice?'' Barbour said.

Lee said she hopes Pickering will change his mind about returning the donations.

"The money was given by employees. Give it back to the former employees where it will do some good,'' she said.

Rushing said about 85 percent of the Enron employee fund came from returned political donations. Of the $40,000 that was donated to the fund, $10,000 came from Dave Delainey, an Enron executive.

The funds don't give the money directly to the ex-employees, but instead is used to pay off bills that have been submitted.