Nielsen fires 75 at Dunedin call center

Rae Elliott, 85, says she was unceremoniously ushered out on the day she was fired.

THERESA BLACKWELL | Times

Rae Elliott, 85, says she was unceremoniously ushered out on the day she was fired.

DUNEDIN — Rae Elliott, 85, had worked at the Nielsen Co.'s Dunedin call center for 26 years the day she was fired.

She started as an interviewer at $3.75 per hour in 1981, then moved up, roving the floor to help interviewers gather TV viewing data nationwide.

"I loved the job, and not so much the job as the people I worked with," she said.

But in late March, Elliott was called upstairs and terminated in a company restructuring.

She wasn't alone: over the past month, 75 employees — 19 full-time, 15 part-time and 41 temporary — have been let go from the call center on Virginia Street, Nielsen says. About 1,100 remain.

Since 2007, Nielsen has cut at least 425 jobs from its Tampa Bay area operations, many from its high-tech facility in Oldsmar.

But unlike Oldsmar — where 110 positions have been outsourced to India-based Tata Consultancy Services — the cuts in Dunedin do not involve outsourcing jobs.

Instead, the company has just figured out how to do the work with fewer people, according to Nielsen spokesman Gary Holmes.

Dunedin director of economic development and housing Bob Ironsmith said Nielsen had not told him about the cuts, which he called "significant" and "unfortunate."

The call center has used a lot of seniors, he said, because they are reliable, efficient and have a good work ethic.

In Oldsmar, Nielsen received at least $3.1-million in state and local subsidies to create jobs. But it got no incentives for the call center in Dunedin.

"There's no way for the city to intercede that I know of," Ironsmith said.

• • •

The day she was let go, Elliott said she asked new call center director Steve Houghton, "Do you mean to tell me, after 26 years, you don't have anything for me?"

He shook his head, Elliott said, and said, "No."

She was quickly ushered out a side door and not allowed to pick up personal belongings or say goodbye to co-workers.

Houghton started working for Nielsen on Feb. 4, according to the company. The firings started soon after.

Rose Schulz, 79, of Clearwater said after 16 years, it took about two minutes to be fired and ushered out the door.

"I'll need to work, will you give me a reference?" she said she asked Houghton.

"Number of years worked and your position," she remembers him saying. "That's standard."

Schulz doubts that years of service, attendance or work ethic were considered in letting people go.

"I think they've ruined a lot of people's lives without a thought," she said.

Team leader Bill Georgius, 71, was pulled from a training class to meet with Houghton. Georgius, who made $13.10 an hour, wished he could have told his team he wouldn't be back.

After lunch, he heard that his team asked, "Is Bill gone?"

"Nobody even went over to inform them," said Georgius, who now works at a Publix deli.

Former nine-year employee Julia Charrez, 42, of Clearwater, was a team leader and is bilingual. A 32-hour part-time worker, she worked overtime during busy seasons and took off during slower seasons.

"I accommodated them," she said. "And this is what they did to me: They kicked me to the curb."

Nielsen says it expects no more layoffs in Dunedin "at this time."

But Elliott's friends who still work there keep their pocketbooks close at hand.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblack

well@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Nielsen fires 75 at Dunedin call center 04/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2008 9:00pm]

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