TIM KORTE Associated Press Writer
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. AOL announced Wednesday it will lay off 1,300 employees by closing call centers in New Mexico and Arizona as part of a previously announced restructuring plan. AOL, the Time Warner Inc. online unit formerly known as America Online, also plans to sell its call center in Ogden, Utah. The cuts include 900 layoffs at the Albuquerque call center and 400 jobs at the center in Tucson, Ariz., AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham said. The Arizona and New Mexico call centers each have operated for 10 years. The closures are part of a restructuring plan that Dulles, Va.-based AOL announced in August. At the time, the company said as many as 5,000 employees would be laid off within six months a quarter of its global work force. “These decisions were very difficult to make, given our long tenure in Albuquerque and Tucson, but they’re necessary in terms of the needs of the company and our users,” Graham said. In August, AOL decided to give away AOL.com e-mail accounts and software once reserved for paying customers, hoping to avoid further defections to rivals that provide free e-mail and other services supported through online ads. The company looked to job cuts to help find $1 billion in savings, particularly in customer- service jobs because live support for technical issues, registration and billing is available only to paying subscribers, many of whom were likely to accept AOL’s free offer. Months ago, Albuquerque city officials noticed the overhaul at AOL and wondered what it would mean for New Mexico. “We’re distressed about the fact that 900 people are being reduced, laid off. What makes it the most difficult is that it’s happening near the holidays. It’s particularly insensitive of AOL to do this now,” said Fred Mondragon, the city’s economic development director. Despite the job cuts, Graham said customers shouldn’t notice any changes. “We may be reducing the scope of what we provide in terms of customer support, but we are absolutely not reducing the quality of that support,” he said. “We are simply providing it in better ways, different ways, mostly through self-help tools.” Graham said “several thousand employees” have been taken off AOL payrolls in Germany, the United Kingdom and France as AOL found companies to purchase its European assets and hire many of those workers. “A majority of our previously announced targeted worldwide reductions have been accomplished not through layoffs but through a seamless divestiture of assets that won’t cause an interruption in employment,” Graham said. In recent months, Graham said there also have been “small, targeted groups (of job cuts) ... but these are the first sizable employee groups that are impacted.” The Arizona and New Mexico employees were informed of the layoffs Wednesday morning, then given the day off. They will return to work Thursday and continue employment with AOL through Dec. 15, when they’ll be offered a severance package that provides a combination of salary and benefits. AOL did not disclose which company will purchase the Utah facility, but Graham said “it is Utah-based and in the member-services industry.” Graham said the 400 AOL workers employed in Ogden are expected to work for the new buyer. “It is not a work force reduction,” he said. Shares in Time Warner rose 21 cents, or 1. 1 percent, to $19.59 in afternoon trading Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.