[Hpn] Laid-off tech workers helping non-profits

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Tue, 04 Sep 2001 09:06:16 -0700

Laid-off tech workers helping non-profits

SAN JOSE, California (AP) -- About 80 of the 6,000 employees Cisco Systems
laid off in April have found a good reason to hold their heads high at a
time when many suddenly unemployed tech workers are having a tough time

In lieu of severance, they agreed to work for a year at homeless shelters,
food banks and other charities, earning just a third of their Cisco salaries
but keeping their benefits and stock plans.

It doesn't cost the nonprofits anything and the workers get an inside shot
if Cisco starts hiring again.

"When I go to parties I don't hang my head in shame. People are actually
interested in what I'm doing," said Evan Miller, a database engineer
installing a fund-raising database at Second Harvest Food Bank in San Jose.
"It feels a lot like a good high-tech job."

Database engineer Tam Do, 45, is teaching the homeless computer and
resume-writing skills at a San Jose shelter through the Cisco Community
Fellowship Program, a pilot project the company started this year.

"The reason I took this opportunity is ... I got a lot of help from the
government in the beginning," said Do, who came to the United States as a
Vietnamese refugee in 1979. "So I think this is a good time for me to pay
back the community."

National experts on nonprofits say Cisco is the first major company they
know of to pay laid-off employees partial salaries while they work for

"It certainly sets an example for other companies and we hope others pick up
on it," said Pat Read, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based
Independent Sector, which tracks nonprofit groups and trends in giving and

Other corporations help nonprofits through "loaned executive" programs at no
cost to the agencies. In the Bay Area, Microsoft, IBM, Federal Express, and
the city of San Jose have loaned at least one employee at full salary to
United Way and its member agencies for two months to one year, said Greg
Larson, United Way of Silicon Valley president.

At Second Harvest, Miller will earn one-third of his former salary -- about
$34,000 -- through next July. But Miller and his family get to keep Cisco's
benefits and his stocks will remain fully vested during that time.

When the year elapses, the employees will receive an additional two months
of salary at the one-third rate and will be considered internal candidates
for any jobs that become available, though there are no guarantees they will
be rehired.

"This allows us to go in and bring a level of Internet usage to nonprofits
that (previously only) corporate America has enjoyed," said Mike Yutrzenka,
who directs the Cisco fellowship program.

About 20 nonprofit groups in the Bay Area and elsewhere are now hosts of
several former Cisco employees each. About 40 percent are in Northern
California; the rest are scattered across the country, Yutrzenka said.

He said participants were chosen who had "a passion to benefit others in
their own community and represent Cisco well." The program also sought
employees with a developed set of computer skills that could meet the needs
of a particular nonprofit.

The day after accountant Sandra Hodgin, 26, was laid-off, she went to
Cisco's Career Action Center, which offers counseling and outplacement

She could have taken the severance package, which included 60-day notice pay
and four months' salary -- an amount equal to what the program's
participants will earn working full-time at the nonprofits for the year.

Hodgin had to rent out her condo, move back in with her parents and take a
second job on weekends to afford the program, which has her implementing a
new online accounting database for InnVision, a group of shelters.

"I figured this was the perfect time for me to do something like this," she
said, "since I'm not married and I don't have any kids."

Many laid-off tech workers have had tough luck finding new jobs -- a
prospect these volunteers have put off, for a year at least.

"I haven't thought about what happens after this whole thing is over -- not
yet," Miller said. "It's a little early and I'm enjoying myself a little too
much. Besides, he said, "the economy could change quite a bit in the next
eight to 12 months."

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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