Archive for Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Call center lays off 70 staffers

April 13, 2005


A North Lawrence call center on Tuesday laid off most of its workers, about 70 people. But the company's new owner apparently is poised to continue operating here.

Home Oxygen 2-U, which opened last summer to sell home-oxygen supplies and other medical products, terminated all but a handful of employees during a morning meeting at the call center, which is in the I-70 Business Center.

Company officials declined to comment, though they did call for a Lawrence police officer to be posted outside the center as the layoffs were announced.

Cheryl White, program manager at the Lawrence Workforce Center, met with several affected employees throughout the day and said that about 70 full-time employees were laid off.

The workers, who together handled three different shifts, learned of their terminations but also were informed there was hope for future employment with the company's new owner, White said.

"It totally caught them off-guard, but they were all invited to check back again in three months," White said. "That's really good that this other company will give them consideration. They certainly have the experience."

The other company is Clearwater, Fla.-based Lincare Holdings Inc., which last week extended the lease for Home Oxygen's 17,000-square-foot center in the business center. The move was among the final steps needed to close Lincare's purchase, said Samih Staitieh, the center's managing partner.

The lease has more than four years remaining.

"I'm very happy with the new corporation," Staitieh said. "I don't have any misgivings, but the sad reality is anytime you have takeovers, you have some layoffs.

Cheryl White, program manager for the Lawrence Workforce Center, offered these tips for anyone looking to ease the pain of a potential layoff:¢ Update the resume. Make sure it's current.¢ Continually track courses for job leads -- the Internet, newspapers and personal contacts.¢ Ask the boss for a letter of reference. "They may not do it, but you certainly should ask for it," particularly once a layoff is announced.For more information, drop by the center at 2540 Iowa, Suite R. The center -- financed by state and federal governments to provide job-seeking assistance -- is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

"The commitment that I got, by them wanting to continue on the lease, should tell you that they want to stay here -- and, theoretically, they cannot stay without having people working the center."

Lincare provides home oxygen and other respiratory-care products for patients in the home. It provides services and equipment for about 530,000 customers in 47 states, and it reported revenues last year of $1.27 billion.

The company has been squeezed in recent years by dwindling payments from Medicare and Medicaid, and industry analysts have noted that Lincare previously had made up for the declining rates by acquiring other providers and making them more efficient.

Last year, the company spent $83 million on acquisitions.

Lincare reported that it added 77 operating centers in 2004, bringing its total to 804. Of the additions, 26 were through purchases of existing companies with annual revenues of $49 million; the remaining 52 locations were through internal expansions.

Home Oxygen opened its North Lawrence center in July, promising to have about 100 jobs. The workers were to take incoming calls from customers responding to national cable TV advertisements for its main product, a device that allows people who use oxygen tanks for breathing assistance to refill their tanks in their own homes.

Entry-level wages at the call center were $10 an hour, White said, which was "competitive" with other call centers in Lawrence.

Pearson Government Solutions is the city's largest call center employer, with 1,800 employees working 30 different contracts at the East Hills Business Park. Affinitas, DST Systems and an SBC Communications relay center also operate in Lawrence, with about 515 employees combined, according to the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce.

Home Oxygen's move is the second major layoff to hit Lawrence this year. On March 14, Serologicals Corp. announced that it was laying off 20 workers at its new manufacturing plant in the East Hills Business Park; it said that delays in customer-validation processes were keeping the company from moving it into full production.

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