Harry & David reportedly delivers pink slips

Harry & David, Southern Oregon's largest nonmedical employer, told as many as 80 employees they were no longer needed Wednesday, as layoffs rippled through the company's information technology, creative services, finance and marketing departments.

Details were sketchy at day's end, and multiple messages left with management and corporate information offices seeking details had not been returned.

While no one in an official role confirmed the layoffs, both current and former employees said meetings were held with workers to discuss the gourmet food and gift company's restructuring efforts.

Layoffs of management and salaried employees are nothing new for the company. In January 2009, Harry & David slashed more than 100 salaried and full-time positions, or about 10 percent of its nationwide staff of 1,100.

At the time, executives blamed deteriorating sales.

"These are always terrible days," said Bill Williams, the company's president and chief executive at the time of those layoffs. "This reduction in staffing has been one of the most difficult decisions for the company in its 75-year history. We lost a lot of long-term, and some short-term, colleagues that will be missed."

Williams himself was dismissed by Wasserstein & Co., which controls Harry & David, two months ago.

His replacement, Steve Heyer, has visited the Medford offices several times, but company insiders say he will not be moving to Oregon.

Employees have said internal communication within the company has diminished since William's departure.

One employee who asked not to be identified described internal communication as "kind of like silence, so you never know exactly what's happening, and then you start jumping to conclusions."

Diminished hours and benefits and layoffs led to a short-lived movement toward unionization that peaked in the spring of 2007. Organizing efforts by the Machinist & Workers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, based in Upper Marlboro, Md., failed.

In August 2004, the company laid off 60 information technology, finance and human resources employees. In April 2003, there were 10 layoffs attributed to staffing overlaps with former parent company Yamanouchi Consumer Inc.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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