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Kmart present: pink slip to staff

With the holidays out of the way, the retailer fires thousands of employees nationwide.

A few thousand Kmart employees _ many of them department managers and store detectives with years of experience _ were fired the day after Christmas in a nationwide reduction in force.

The affected workers, who had helped keep their stores open around-the-clock for the last four days of a disappointing holiday shopping season, had no advance warning until store managers called them aside individually on what some Kmart workers have callled "Black Tuesday."

The firings came after a holiday season in which many retailers were caught with more goods than demand and had to cut prices heavily to move unsold merchandise.

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, which tracks sales of 85 retail chains that account for 60 percent of general merchandise buying, estimated sales were up a modest 3.9 percent for the season. That would be their worst performance since 1996.

Analysts this week lowered earnings forecasts for Kmart Corp.; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; Federated Department Stores Inc.; The Gap Inc.; Target Inc.; Abercrombie & Fitch Co.; and Intimate Brands Inc., which operates Victoria's Secret.

Kmart shares closed unchanged at $5.13 cents Wednesday after hitting a 52-week low of $4.81 earlier in the day. Kmart made no announcement of the staff cutback.

The nation's third-largest retailer, Troy, Mich.-based Kmart normally bulks up its ranks by up to 40 percent with temporary help to handle big holiday crowds, then cuts back the temps right after Christmas. This season the full-time salaried staff was cut as well the day after Christmas in all 2,100 Big Kmart stores.

Kmart, which employs 280,000 on a year-round basis, wouldn't say how many full-timers lost their jobs because some employees are getting transfers.

But the total amounted to a "few" people per store, meaning the job loss in the Tampa Bay area was fewer than 75.

"It's part of our shift away from staffing these jobs with full-time workers to part-timers," said Kmart spokeswoman Mary Lorencz. Part-timers work fewer hours for about the same hourly wage, but get no health insurance benefits.