MS president of AT&T says target of layoffs uncertain

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Thousands of Mississippians are waiting to find out if they will be among those receiving pink slips from a telecommunications giant. On Thursday AT&T announced plans to cut 12,000 jobs which a spokesperson said would be "across the company and across the country." The cuts amount to four percent of the company's workforce.

AT&T was among the sponsors of a Biloxi Chamber of Commerce event on Thursday morning. AT&T Mississippi president Mayo Flynt said he was seated at the Morning Call breakfast table when he got the news, but he says there was no word on what that will mean here in our state.

"We just don't know. We'll know more later," said Flynt. "We have a little less than 4,000 employees working for AT&T in Mississippi. Across the country we have 300,000 employees so on a percentage basis these cuts are not terribly significant. The number itself is large, and of course, to each individual that it impacts, it is meaningful."

Senator Thad Cochran said the AT&T announcement is another blow to already shrinking job market.

"Well, it's depressing. Emotionally, it's a depressing development," Senator Cochran said. "It also just reminds us how serious this is in the lives of people that are getting laid off. They don't know what to do. We have unemployment benefit programs. We need to reexamine those. Do they need to be extended? Look for ways to be more helpful to those who need help."

Cochran said now is the time to look for ways to revive the struggling economy.

"I think we do need a stimulus package that is designed to create new jobs and job opportunities. It's not easy to just wave a magic wand and create changes that insure that but that's what our goal has to be. We have a lot of people who are out of work and who want to work. The challenge right now is to strengthen the underpinnings of our economy so that new and better jobs are available."

AT&T is not the only company that announced job cuts Thursday morning. DuPont is cutting 6,500 jobs mostly from plants that serve the United States and European auto and construction markets.  United Airlines is laying off almost 1,100 workers.  Viacom also announced it will cut 850 jobs and freeze some senior level raises for 2009.

Meanwhile Senator Cochran says he'll likely not support a bailout of the auto industry because he thinks it is unfair. He says the federal government can't provide help to everyone who needs it.  He says it would not be fair to offer help to the American based segment of the auto industry and not to companies from other countries that do business here.

"Things have changed. It's not just the big three anymore," said Senator Cochran. "We've got multiple businesses in our state that don't involve General Motors or Ford. They are Nissan, other companies that are choosing to locate in Mississippi, big plants, bigger than any of the others have ever put here. They're not going to be sharing in the benefits of that automobile bailout program."

He continued, "So there's an argument about fairness targeting one segment of an industry that's basically American based and forgetting the fact that we are now home to other companies from around the world who are employing a lot more people in our state than the so called big three. We're confronting that. I'm not saying exactly right now how that vote is going to turn out. I do not know, but my inclination right now is to vote against that."