When Benefits And Jobs Are Deconstructed

A few years ago, when Walter Bucior needed cancer treatment, Unisys Corp. stood by him. As an assembly-line worker in the company's Flemington (N.J.) personal-computer plant, his benefit plan paid nearly all his medical bills. It also paid when his wife, Linda, needed back surgery, and her bills alone topped $100,000. No wonder Bucior says he never balked at going the extra mile for Unisys.

Now, Bucior, 40, is a victim of Unisys' struggle to slash costs. The company abruptly decided last December that it couldn't keep up as a manufacturer in the cutthroat PC market. So it closed down Flemington in May, leaving almost 700 workers out of a job.

STRUGGLE. Bucior is one of about 400 still jobless. Federal grants are paying his tuition for refrigeration-repair school, but he fears matching his $25,000 salary will be tough. His severance--a week's pay for each year of work--is long gone, and though his $308 weekly unemployment check helps pay the mortgage, he can't afford $600 a month for health insurance.

It's true that Unisys is winning praise from investors for its financial recovery--four profitable quarters after seven losing ones--but the pain is being borne by thousands. Since early 1991, Unisys has closed 7 of 15 factories and trimmed nearly 25,000 jobs.

For the jobless, the knowledge that Unisys is part of an industrywide struggle to deconstruct costly old organizations offers cold comfort. So far, new jobs have eluded most of the Flemington workers. Because they were highly trained and highly paid, many may end up working for far less, if they find work at all.

To be sure, Unisys did make some extra efforts. It helped workers qualify for federal trade-adjustment assistance, designed for industries that can show they were hurt by imports. The program pays for up to two years of training and supplements jobless benefits. But many of the workers are bitter that Unisys didn't find another manufacturer for the site, though the company says it tried. "It's a marketable plant and a marketable work force," says Mary Frances Regan, an ex-Flemington worker who is leading efforts to find new employers.

So far, manufacturers have found the 205,000-square-foot site too big. Regan's group has hired a consulting firm to lure employers. Says Regan: "I call it a human recycling project."

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