Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette announced Tuesday it's laying off 2,631 of its 2,900 employees

PMG: FILE PHOTO - Shoppers line up at the northeast Portland Goodwill outlet store or Bins. With most of the staff being laid off as of April 2, the lines in future could be for job fairs and resume writing. But first Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette would have to hire back some of them to run the programs.

Hard times are here. Portland's local Goodwill stores are no longer a safe haven for jobs for people with disabilities.

Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette announced Tuesday it's laying off 2,631 employees of a total of around 2,900 employees.

Goodwill closed it stores and warehouses, from Salem to Vancouver, on March 24, after Governor Kate Brown's stay-at-home executive order.

General counsel and human-resources director Bob Barsocchini told The Business Tribune that staffers would be officially let go on April 2 so they could keep their health insurance coverage. They will also be paid for their accrued sick and vacation time.

"It gives them some breathing room," said Barsocchini. "That's roughly a million-dollar premium we're going to make on our behalf (for health insurance) and to pay out all available sick and vacation will release about another $3.8 million."

The company will pay an additional $300 to those affected employees for a short transition while they file for unemployment insurance and wait for the federal benefits.

"With the $1,200 checks and the additional amount on top of unemployment, I think it's $600 a week, we're doing what we can."

Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette has 53 stores and 39 donation sites.

With warehouses and offices being run by a skeleton crew, donations have been piling up outside Goodwills as people spring clean their homes. Barsocchini said mobile staff will keep trying to clear these donations away before they get spread around.

"We also had to close all programs. Everything that we operate we support through the sale of donated goods. So right now, there is no income. But we continue to have ongoing operating expenses."

Goodwill is just the latest local company to do mass layoffs. In the second week of March 4,900 Oregonians filed for unemployment benefits. The number jumped to 76,000 a week later as companies faced the reality that they were staying closed for the foreseeable future and could not make payroll.

Through its Job Connection program, the company runs job fairs, English classes and resume-writing workshops as part of its mission.

"When the time comes to rehire, we hope to bring everybody back that we can. Our mission is to provide education opportunities to people with barriers of employment. We'll certainly fulfill that mission and bring everybody back that we can. But the longer this goes, the shutdown and closure, the more difficult it's going to be."

Asked whether they could reopen 53 stores in one day, Barsocchini said, "We'll have to see. It's one thing to close everything down pursuant to the order, but another thing to restart everything and have staffing and inventory. We're just doing everything we can to facilitate that. But it's unknown the length that the shutdown is going to last."

Ongoing operational costs include the company's security guards, 15 trucks and mounting clean-up costs.

"We have clean-up people going to donation sites because people will not stop leaving stuff there, despite our instructions to the contrary. That's unnecessarily expensive."

He added, "We can't accept donations right now, but that's not stopping people from going, and then other people from picking through that stuff."

The COBRA program (from the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, a federal law passed in 1985) for extending health insurance is available to Goodwill employees. If laid-off staff can afford it, they have two months buy the same health insurance using COBRA. Or they must find their own insurance, through the state's marketplace, They can also buy it from a private carrier, although Barsocchini admitted, "To sign up for private insurance is very expensive."

Goodwill has an 800 number for employees to call in for information, and a phone tree for managers to keep in touch with employees should they need to be rehired.

"We're focused on working through this with the goal of reopening as close to the structure that we had prior to the shutdown. I'm hoping this will not last very long."

Asked if Goodwill does better in a recession or in a boom time, Barsocchini said it's hard to say.

"I would expect when we do reopen and things are a little tougher and we may see more people shopping there and we may see more people donating. I can tell you over the last 20 years we've seen an absolute steady increase in donations and revenue."

Goodwill leases some of its donation sites, like the one on Barbur Boulevard near the Terwilliger Fred Meyer. It also owns many of its properties, and in some places sublets space to branded businesses. In Clackamas, on 82nd Avenue, the company has a two-and-a-half-acre parcel with a typical 25,000 square foot Goodwill and tenants that include a dental clinic, diner and nail salon.

"We're going to have the same conversations with landlords that other people are having. It's going to be 30 different discussions with our different tenants."

Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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