Nancy Keller returned to work at the National Bank of Washington yesterday and tried to act as if nothing had changed. It was a tough performance.
Like the other 900 employees of the District's oldest bank, Keller officially lost her job Friday when the federal government closed the doors of National Bank of Washington (NBW), declared it insolvent and sold it to Riggs National Bank for $33 million.
Although Keller -- who works in computer programming -- was able to get a temporary 15-day assignment with Riggs, the government's transaction cost the 12-year NBW veteran her health benefits, severance pay, sick leave and vacation time.
"For them to take our hospitalization, to take our income -- they took everything," she said. "I just keep sitting here thinking, 'I can't believe it. I can't believe it.' I just don't know how they could do that."
Though many of the bank's employees painfully had watched over the years as management turmoil, power struggles and financial problems took their toll on the 181-year-old institution, Friday's finale was still hard to swallow.
"Just last week, the government was assuring us that everything would be okay," said a senior vice president who asked not to be identified. "Then, overnight, boom! We're all fired and we have no recourse."
Although most of NBW's employees were union members, the employment contract they had bargained for was terminated by federal regulators as part of the agreement with Riggs to purchase the failed bank.
Riggs spokesman David Palombi said it's unclear how many NBW employees ultimately will be rehired, but he said Riggs made temporary employment offers to almost all 900 workers.
Still, dozens of NBW employees elected on Friday not to sign the Riggs temporary-employment contract, saying that it would be disloyal.
"I just couldn't bring myself do it," said Ann Baker, who worked in the bank's operations center. "It just didn't seem right."
Instead of returning to work, Baker said she and some others signed up at the District's unemployment office and began searching through help wanted ads.
For those employees who did return, it was not an easy choice. Gone were the National Bank of Washington signs, replaced with Riggs's name, and gone, too, were many of their co-workers.
"I just didn't know what else to do," Keller said. "I'm trying to make the most of it, but it's hard when you don't know for certain what's in your future. This bank meant a lot to me and to all of the people here. It won't ever be the same again."