At the outset of an Oct. 23 address to investors, Bloomin' Brands CEO David Deno lauded his company’s “decision not to furlough any employees during the pandemic.”
“I think the decision that this management team made to not furlough or let people go has really paid off,” he added. “As the in-restaurant dining came back, we were prepared and ready to go, and our team has been very grateful for what we’ve done.”
As this was happening, however, the Tampa parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and other restaurants was in the process of quietly eliminating dozens of local jobs.
In September, Bloomin’ Brands told 45 employees that it was outsourcing their jobs to an information technology company called Virtusa. The workers, who provide technical support to restaurants worldwide, had only a few days to decide whether to reapply for their job with Virtusa, starting in October. If they declined, they would be let go in December.
“Unfortunately, some of the current positions will no longer be needed,” executive vice president of customer care Michael Stutts wrote in a Sept. 15 company memo. “This was a business decision and in no way a reflection of this team’s hard work and dedication. While we see operational benefits with this business decision, it was still a very difficult one to make.”
Help desk associate Paul Glynn, 65, of Tampa said this rubbed him the wrong way, considering how the company has long touted its “principles and beliefs” about how employees should be treated. After learning his job was being outsourced, he said he felt “basically thrown under the bus at 65.”
“It doesn’t seem like a tremendous amount of people were treated with some respect,” Glynn said.
Part of the problem, said former employee Christopher Jones of Lutz, was how quickly Bloomin' Brands moved. The company gave employees the news on a Tuesday. They had until that Friday to apply to go to Virtusa — and were told not all of them would be hired.
“They gave us all of three days to make a decision,” said Jones, 32, who instead took a work-from-home job for a company based in Alabama. “I think their plan was, out of fear, we wouldn’t have time to make a decision impacting our careers, and we would just go ahead with Virtusa, because that was some semblance of safety.”
In response to questions about the job cuts, Bloomin’ Brands shared a statement: “We began working with Virtusa in 2017 as we began considering the best way we, as a restaurant company, should approach IT in our rapidly changing environment. The changes we made in September were based on business needs, not related to COVID. We have not laid off or furloughed any employee because of COVID."
Headquartered in Southborough, Mass., Virtusa’s clients have included AIG and JPMorgan Chase. In May, the company reported revenues of $1.3 billion for the latest fiscal year.
After initially saying the company would provide a comment on its Bloomin' Brands partnership, a Virtusa spokesman did not return subsequent voice and email messages.
Bloomin' Brands employees who went to Virtusa were promised they would start at similar salaries, and were eligible for the company’s benefits. Bloomin' Brands would compensate those employees for accrued vacation time. If employees decided not to go to Virtusa, however, they would lose those benefits — along with their jobs and annual bonuses — in December.
“It’s hard to take that in good faith and say that they were actually trying to help you, or in any way cared,” Jones said. “Why did they choose to go this route? They could have done this in a way that wouldn’t have completely eroded the trust of the company.”
Glynn said he was offered a job with Virtusa, but doesn’t want to take it. After he trains new employees, he believes he’ll become expendable.
“All outsourcing companies do this," he said. “It’s the transfer of knowledge they care about.”
He’s exploring other job opportunities with other companies. Until then, he’s staying with Bloomin' Brands until his job is gone in December.
“What are they going to do?” he said. “Fire me?”