Photography giant Eastman Kodak Co., citing poor economic conditions, offered early retirement yesterday to 80 percent of its 93,200 U.S. employes. Industry analysts speculated that a couple of thousand Kodak workers might take the company up on its offer.
"This is not an environment in which people are likely to give up a good job in return even for several extra weeks in severance pay," said Stanley W. Morten, a Kodak analyst at Wertheim & Co.
A Kodak spokesman would not estimate how many workers might take advantage of the incentives, but said a more narrow early-retirement program a decade ago reduced the company's employment by 1,720--one-third the employes eligible. "We have no formal goal" for attrition in the new program, he said.
The company said it was offering the early separation option--which will be available until March 1--in an attempt to reduce employment from the record levels reached last year. Analysts said the traditionally protective company is apparently seeking to avoid outright layoffs.
"Kodak would have to really be pressed against the wall before it began cutting people," said analyst Brian R. Fernandez at First Manhattan Co., who called the Kodak program "a very high-class way of doing business."
The plan, which offers early retirement to older workers and separation incentives based on years of service to others, was outlined in a letter to employes from Kodak Chairman Walter A. Fallon.
"While we see continued growth in the business, it is apparent that the current level of Kodak employment is high relative to the economic outlook. An adjustment must be made," Fallon wrote.
The Kodak program is being offered in two forms. Employes close to retirement age will be able to get a bigger chunk of retirement benefits by retiring early than they might have previously. Under the program, a 55-year-old employe with 30 years of service will be able to retire with full benefits. Previously, that employe would receive 75 percent of retirement benefits by retiring at age 55. At the low end of the scale, 55-year-old employes with 21 years at the company will get 55 percent of benefits by retiring now.
Kodak estimated 8,000 employes would be eligible for this part of the package. Analysts said that most Kodak employes accepting the company's separation offer would come from this group.
In the other part of the offer, Kodak will pay employes severance based on years of service, at a rate of one week of salary per year of service, plus one extra week's salary. The minimum is two weeks' salary; the maximum is 26 weeks. Those taking early retirement under the other part of the program will also be eligible for this severance pay.