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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 22:24 GMT
Enron employees campaign for pay
Civil-rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson chatting with employees
Jesse Jackson chatting with former Enron employees

Jessie Patterson was in New York on Wednesday, along with half a dozen other former Enron workers, seeking financial relief after losing much of her pension scheme with the collapse of Enron's stock price.


Right now, the little people are trying to get the banks to release our money

Jessie Patterson
Former Enron employee
"We came here for our money, to get our severance pay," Ms Patterson told BBC News Online.

She hopes to persuade the federal bankruptcy court in Manhattan to compel banking giants JP Morgan Chase, ABN Amro, Citigroup and the Bank of New York to stand down and release severance funds to desperate employees.

The banks control about $75m (52.8M) in severance pay that Enron has set aside for former employees. And it is the banks that form the creditors' committee overseeing the dispersion of funds and determining who gets paid what.

"This is the way corporate American handles things," said Ms Patterson, a former senior administrator at Enron. "Right now, the little people are trying to get the banks to release our money."

Loss of faith

The severance pay would come as welcome relief to most Enron workers who were hastily dismissed from their jobs, and who lost millions in pension funds when Enron's stock price fell dramatically last autumn.

Jessie Patterson, former Enron employee
Ms Patterson just wants her severance package
Ms Patterson, along with other Enron employees, was prevented from selling her shares of Enron stock, which she bought through the firm's retirement plan, or 401(k).

She watched in disbelief as the thousands of dollars she had squirreled away for retirement dwindled to virtually nothing when Enron's stock dropped from $40 a share to mere pennies.

Joining the former workers in New York was civil-rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has taken on the cause of Enron workers in the weeks and months following the firm's bankruptcy filing.

"The workers deserve relief, the bankers deserve recovery [and] the nation deserves remedy," Mr Jackson told BBC News Online.

Enron workers were led to believe that investing all of their retirement money in Enron stock was a sound thing to do, he said.

These were the same workers who looked up one Monday morning and were told to pack up all their belongings and leave Enron's Houston headquarters building within 30 minutes, Mr Jackson said.

Cause celeb

The former employees are no doubt grateful to have the high-profile attention that Mr Jackson can draw.

Civil-rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson
Mr Jackson is attracting attention to the cause
Two years ago Mr Jackson was successful in securing the release of three US soldiers held as prisoners-of-war in Yugoslavia.

Asked if Enron employees will see justice as a result of their pleas to the bankruptcy court, Mr Jackson told BBC News Online, "They will not see justice but hopefully relief."

Mr Jackson said Enron has the employees' money - "we know that" - and it is now up to the bankruptcy judge to embrace a sense of justice and let them have it.

He expressed contempt for the Enron executives who sold their holdings, raking in millions of dollars while employees were prevented from selling their shares.

"This was the largest heist in corporate history," Mr Jackson said. "The bad news is it may be broader and deeper than Enron."

Houston hard hit

Many employees are struggling following their dismissals from Enron.

"A lot of people are losing homes... and automobiles," said Louis Allen, who worked at Enron for five years as a parking and transportation supervisor.

Louis Allen, former Enron employee
Mr Allen is struggling to support his daughter
Mr Allen, who solely supports an 11-year-old daughter, has found the loss of his job devastating. "You just have no sense of direction," he said.

He and the other former employees who travelled to New York said finding a new job Houston was a real challenge in the wake of the massive job cuts at Enron.

They often find they are competing with former fellow employees for the same positions. Meanwhile, others have pulled up stakes and moved to Dallas or neighbouring states in search of jobs.

All are seeking a way to mend broken lives.

"We're not looking for handouts," Jessie Patterson said. "We're looking for viable employment, to get back some of what we lost."


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27 Feb 02 | Business
27 Feb 02 | Business
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