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Kmart workers eye options

State to develop plan to help workers find new jobs

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Jimmy Gunn has been working at the sporting goods department of Kmart since the store opened in Juneau in 1993. He saw it switch to a "Big K" in 1999, and helped transform it to a Super Kmart in 2001.

Kmart's decision to close its five stores in Alaska means Gunn, along with 133 other full- and part-time employees at the store, will be out of work by March 14.

Gunn, whose children are grown but whose income supports his disabled wife, said the store closing was a surprise. It also left him wondering what to do next.

"I have no idea," he said. "I'm thinking very seriously about leaving town. ... We need to go someplace where we can get health coverage."

Kmart Corp. has enlisted the services of Career Builder, a job placement company, to find new jobs for the company's 30,000 to 35,000 workers who will be laid-off nationwide, said company spokesman Dave Karraker.

"If they want to stay in Juneau, (Career Builder) will search out other opportunities in Juneau," Karraker said. Employees also will have access to other Kmart job openings throughout the nation.

As for Gunn, he said he would work for Kmart again if he found a store to hire him.

"I like the people I work with, and for the most part, you know, I'm pretty much alone, so I can do my thing, run my department the way I want to," he said.

Kmart's "separation package" includes a plan to extend health care coverage, allowing employees to retain health insurance for six months after the store closes. The package also includes back pay on unused vacation time and use of the employee Kmart discount card for six months, Karraker said.

The state's Juneau Job Center plans to be a resource for Kmart employees during the closure.

"We generally do what we call a rapid response when a business unexpectedly closes," said Michael Hutcherson, the manager for employment services at the job center.

The rapid response likely will be at the state rather than local level because 847 employees around the state will lose their jobs, he said. While a state plan is developed, the Juneau Job Center is contacting local employers to see what the job market will be like in March.

"What we've been trying to do is to coordinate with the folks in the Nugget Mall, with Jo-Ann Fabrics coming in, to get some people from Kmart over there," he said. "Jo-Ann is willing to do that."

Jo-Ann Fabrics, when it opens in March in the Nugget Mall, will hire about 50 employees, Hutcherson said.

Alaska Industrial Hardware, which is slated to open in Juneau in late March at the Airport Mall, will employ 15 people, said AIH general manager Mike Kangas.

"The employers in this town have always been pretty good at grabbing somebody with good customer-service skills and try to place them," Hutcherson said. "But 134 is a large number."

Jim Calvin, an economist with the research firm the McDowell Group, is confident Juneau's economy will be able to absorb the loss.

"If a community loses a large employer for whatever reason in a healthy economy, folks that lose their jobs can find work elsewhere," he said. "Juneau's economy is in pretty good shape, generally. Overall, I can't imagine this will have a tremendous impact."

The Juneau City Assessor's Office said Kmart Corp. owns the land and the building of the Juneau Super Kmart. No plans for the Kmart property have been announced.

Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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