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With everything to lose, Andersen workers unite

Arthur Andersen employees must feel like battling Roman gladiators awaiting the thumbs up (you live!) or the thumbs down (you die!) from the jeering crowd.

Thanks to the Enron debacle, the giant accounting firm's fate looks iffy at best. The Justice Department last week decided to indict the entire firm under obstruction of justice charges.

But not all may not be lost. Pockets of support, however modest or unexpected, remain.

Just ask Tampa Bay Technology Forum president and area entrepreneur Tom Wallace. At a breakfast meeting Wednesday before a few hundred area tech workers, Wallace interrupted the agenda by praising the local Andersen managers. At the podium, he called the government crackdown on the firm "unfair."

"We're pulling for you," Wallace said before getting back to the "What's ahead for Tampa Bay's tech industry" theme.

In what may be a belated fight for survival, Andersen this week unleashed its accountants.

Nationwide, Andersen rallied many of its employees to spread the word that the actions of a few go-along Andersen auditors and document shredders at Houston client Enron should not drag down the rest of the firm. The most public event occurred Wednesday in Houston, where Andersen pleaded "not guilty" to charges while Andersen employees _ decked out in black T-shirts with "I am Arthur Andersen" in orange letters _ rallied outside the federal courthouse.

Andersen also bought full-page advertisements in national newspapers this week explaining why it was fighting the Justice Department's case.

In a campaign dubbed "Operation Orange," Andersen workers are trying to make some noise in other cities. Andersen wants to pitch these rallies as spontaneous, employee-driven events.

But it's no coincidence the accounting firm just hired a gaggle of U.S. public relations firms fluent in crisis management. In Florida, Andersen recently hired Tampa's Tucker Hall PR firm to help arrange interviews with Florida newspapers (including the Times) for Andersen's managing partner for Florida, Mike Blount.

In its headquarters town of Chicago, Andersen sent employees such as Tammy Jones, 28 and legally blind, to meet with the Sun-Times newspaper. "If I lose my job, there are not many people willing to work with a blind person," she said, breaking into tears.

Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke out for Andersen workers, saying the indictment that the company calls a "death penalty" is too severe.

In Los Angeles, Andersen employee Ellen Damon, the firm's director of learning and personal growth, took to the airwaves on National Public Radio. "You know, I just _ I'm bleeding orange blood these days, I guess," she said. "I _ I am not willing to give up on this firm."

At the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Kathleen Pender says she's spoken with a half-dozen Andersen employees, usually with a public relations person present, over two days this week. She's received copies of pro-Andersen e-mails with subject lines such as "A cry for justice" and "Shame on you, Mr. Bully."

Most of the e-mails follow suggestions Andersen sent out in a memo to employees this week, which included a sample letter they could send to Congress.

Thursday morning in Philadelphia, Andersen employees and supporters rallied in the city's Love Park. Another rally is set to take place today in Chicago.

Let's give Andersen workers some credit. They're proud (and probably scared) and not ready to surrender _ even if many are updating their resumes. Globally, Andersen boasts a global work force of some 85,000 people, 28,000 nationwide and 1,400 workers in Florida.

One of those 1,400 is an indignant Ronald K. Fouche. He wrote the Sarasota Herald-Tribune to counter the "absurd" suggestion by another reader that Sarasota's "Arthur Andersen Parkway" should be renamed.

Short takes

IT'S BILL VERSUS BOB: In the contest of "who's got the better annual report," Tampa Bay's two big power companies went all out this year. North Carolina's Progress Energy, parent of St. Petersburg's Florida Power, features a hip red-and-white cover and the theme: what does progress look like? Tampa's TECO Energy, parent of Tampa Electric, features a fold-out cover with 11 employees, including today's appropriate mix of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, blue-collar and managerial men (six) and women (five).

Progress Energy CEO Bill Cavanaugh starts his "Dear Shareholder" letter with a message to make Gunga Din proud: While other companies lost their heads after Sept. 11, Progress Energy stayed the course. Then, in a stretch of imagination, he boasts of a "high performance culture" honed since his company acquired Florida Power. Let's just say the company's still working on that part of the merger. In TECO Energy's shareholder letter, CEO Robert Fagan had a simple message to tell: 2001 was a year of record revenues and earnings.

We must give Cavanaugh the award for "most CEO-like" signature at the end of his letter. But Fagan wins the "aw shucks" award for his shirt-and-tie photo and its Lake Woebegone-like caption: Bob, CEO . . .

FOLLOW THE NUMBERS: Based on rent growth, the hottest multifamily markets in the fourth quarter of 2001 were in Palm Beach County, up 9.3 percent from a year ago; Salt Lake City, up 7.9 percent; San Francisco, up 6.7 percent; and (drumroll, please) Tampa, up 6.7 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors . . .

PITY POOR DIGEX INC.: In its heyday, the Maryland pioneer of hosting Web sites used to be majority-owned by Tampa's Intermedia Communications, and boasted a share price above $30 a share. Then Worldcom bought Intermedia to get its hands on Digex. The result? Digex shares have tanked, closing Thursday at $1.35. And Intermedia is no more . . .

_ Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigauxsptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

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