J.C. Penney Co.'s plans to reposition itself in the marketplace will abolish 9,300 jobs throughout the chain, but it is unlikely that a serious morale problem will occur as a result.
In metropolitan Washington, where 150 Penney employes will lose their jobs, the reaction contrasts sharply with the frustration, anger and shock precipitated by Lucky Stores Inc.'s announcement in December that it would close its 13 Memco stores in metropolitan Washington.
Memco employes were given only two weeks' notice of the impending closings, prompting charges that the company had violated provisions of a contract that required a minimum 30-day advance notice of store closings.
Even though Lucky Stores eventually settled on an agreement that provided for a package of severance benefits for former Memco employes, it threw 2,000 persons out of work without any offers of assistance to make the transition easier.
In light of Lucky Stores' insistence that Memco had been profitable and that it was under no pressure to close, the abrupt closings indicated a larger concern for a quick profit and a rather callous attitude toward loyal employes.
Indeed, it has not been a good year for retail employes in the Washington area. The messy termination of the Memco chain, the demise of Woolco Stores and scattered closings of other retail operations, including two K mart stores, have put more than 3,000 retail employes out of work in metropolitan Washington in less than three months.
Several Penney employes in Washington area stores admit disappointment over losing their jobs, but theirs is a solid vote of confidence in management. The bitterness and frustration that were so apparent among former Memco employes are virtually absent in the wake of Penney's announcement of its plans.
The reason is fairly simple: Penney has put together a class act that other employers might do well to include in their personnel policy books. It's a refreshing example of corporate responsibility and sensitivity in dealing with employes whose jobs have been abolished.
Through a carefully planned information and counseling program, Penney has softened the blow for its employes who will be affected by the company's $1 billion changeover that will eliminate several merchandise lines.
And, as a result of the planning that went into that program, Penney expects to place at least 95 percent of the affected employes with other companies or transfer them to other positions within the Penney Co.
In fact, William D. Striegl, district manager for Penney stores in the Washington-Baltimore region, says he is confident that all employes in his division will be placed in other jobs by the time the changeover begins.
As part of a comprehensive plan developed at corporate headquarters, Penney briefed employes at least three weeks before announcing plans to implement the new merchandising strategy.
"They didn't hear it on the radio, see it on TV, or read about it in the paper first," Striegl noted.
Nor did company employes have to worry about looking for another job at the height of the worst recession since World War II.
In the Washington area, for example, Penney's personnel officers conducted sessions in which employes were briefed in basic job-hunting techniques such as preparing for interviews, writing resumes and constructing a skills inventory.
Several Penney employes yesterday confirmed that the company has made appointments for them for interviews with other employers in the area and that they have received assistance in typing and reproducing resumes.
Employes in the product service division will be offered jobs either in the company or with RCA Corp. or General Electric Co., which will take over Penney's service operations for major appliances.
Penney's expects to place about 30 of the 120 employes in its seven Washington area auto service centers in sales-related positions at the 15 stores in this division. Similar transfers have been offered to sales persons in appliances and other departments that will be phased out starting April 1.
At least 90 percent of the remaining auto center employes have been interviewed by representatives from other firms, including Goodyear, Trak Auto and Merchant Tire Co. Most of those employes have been offered jobs.
At a Penney auto center in Forestville, manager Neil Thompson and service manager Bill Napier said at least five of the 12 technicians in the shop have found other employment largely through the company's assistance. "We definitely feel comfortable with what this company has done for us," Napier said.
"We worry about the people first and the space next," Striegl remarked. "This kind of transition doesn't have to be traumatic."