|By Brian Rokos, The Press-Enterprise,
Riverside, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 13, 2010--Employees of a Hemet reservation call center for Hilton Worldwide were sent to the Philippines to train agents at a new call center there only two months before Hilton announced that it was closing the Hemet office, a former employee said.
Johnwayne Stroud, who worked at the hotel chain's Hemet center from February to November 2008, said in an e-mail that those employees were told that the Manila call centers were being set up to handle reservation changes and customer service.
Then at a 2 p.m. meeting on Aug. 4, Hilton told its Hemet employees what had been rumored for months: that the center on Florida Avenue would close, on Oct. 6. Documents say 295 people will lose their jobs.
Stroud said most employees there worked 40 hours a week, earning $9.50-$12 per hour. He said employees received awards for high sales and call-taking efficiency, and that Hemet took overflow calls from other centers.
"I was told by multiple managers at the call center that Hemet was the cheapest center to keep open, and often outperformed our corporate office in Texas," Stroud wrote.
Details of the layoff were scarce the day it happened because workers were told they would lose their severance pay if they spoke to the media. And although office staff handed out the phone number of a public relations executive, he did not return calls seeking comment. Four hours after the layoff was announced, that executive, David Trumble, Hilton's director of corporate communications for the western United States, e-mailed a three-paragraph statement.
The statement said Hilton had a commitment to "maximizing operating efficiencies" and that closing the Hemet center was "a difficult decision."
The statement did not say how many people were losing their jobs. In Hilton's Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act filing made the next day, the company said it was 295.
California's WARN Act requires employers to inform state and local officials and the work force 60 days in advance if they plan to lay off 50 or more employees within a 30-day period.
Hemet Deputy City Manager Mark Orme said that Robert King, Hilton's vice president of finance, phoned him the day of the layoffs and said employees would be offered jobs at call centers in Texas and Florida.
Trumble took seven days to respond to e-mailed questions about Hilton's operations, including whether Hilton had call centers in the Philippines, whether Hemet employees were sent there as trainers and whether Hemet employees would receive relocation assistance.
He did not answer the latter two questions. Stroud said Hemet employees were offered relocation help.
Trumble did say that Hilton has customer service centers in Tampa, Fla.; Dallas; Mexico City; Glasgow, Scotland; Shanghai; and Cairo; and that it outsources to two call centers in Manila.
"Hilton Worldwide would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank both the Hemet Reservations Center team members for their many contributions to the success of the company and the residents of Hemet for their support of the company's presence in their community for the past several years," Trumble wrote in the Aug. 4 statement.
Staff writer Jack Katzanek contributed to this report.
Reach Brian Rokos at 951-763-3464 or brokos@PE.com
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