Pink Slips, Blue Folders at AOL

By Kendra Marr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

AOL employees clutching navy-blue folders stuffed with severance package information started walking out of the company's Dulles campus gates at about noon yesterday.

Some said they were in good spirits; others said they were still in shock from the recent round of layoffs, which affected 2,000 employees worldwide, or 20 percent of the company's workforce. Others angrily trudged toward their cars.

"We were surprised, since it wasn't performance-based," said one employee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she said she feared her severance package might be jeopardized. "A lot of good people got hit."

In the Washington area, one of the regions hardest-hit by the layoff, 750 AOL workers began getting pink slips yesterday. The layoffs coincide with executives' recent announcement to move company's headquarters from Dulles to New York in the process of transforming AOL from a subscription Internet provider to an online advertising company rivaling Google and Yahoo.

Some Dulles employees reported that heavily hit divisions included member services, network operations, AOL Web sites for teens, as well as offices in Tucson and Columbus, Ohio.

AOL yesterday declined further comment on the layoffs, which were announced on Monday.

Monday night, before the ax came down, A.J. Miner, a member of AOL's network operations group, received an e-mail notifying him of a mandatory meeting the next day.

At 11 a.m. yesterday, Miner and 12 to 15 other workers gathered in a conference room. "They told us, 'Thank you for your service and go here to pick up a package with all the information,' " Miner said, pointing to his navy-blue folder.

Miner had commuted to the Dulles campus from his home in Silver Spring. He said he would be looking for jobs closer to Metro stations. "I'll be okay," he said.

Other employees were told in person that they would be let go. Those who didn't arrive at work yesterday had received phone calls the night before.

"It's pretty bad; it's pretty bad," one staffer, who did not disclose whether she was affected by the cuts, said as she dashed from one building to the next.

Severance packages range from two to 12 months of salary, depending on the worker's compensation, job category and the date the severance is finalized. AOL will also pay annual bonuses.

Throughout the afternoon, former employees met up at such Loudoun County bars as Old Dominion Brewpub and Clyde's. Blogs were bombarded with manifestos, disheartened comments, and T-shirt designs characterizing AOL chief executive Randy Falco and president and chief operating officer Ron Grant as "Simpsons" cartoon characters.

One employee who escaped the cuts said the mood until yesterday had been optimistic, particularly with the announcement of the company's move to New York.

"We were hopeful that things wouldn't change, but here we are," said the employee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Miner said he and other Dulles employees were happy to escape AOL's troubles.

"You look at what the company is now and see it might be better to get out," he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company