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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET: WORKING INTO THE NEXT CENTURY : OPTIONS : ON THE FRINGE : Companies Offer a Range of Options in Addition to Pay, Salary and Status; Free Beer or a Mac Anyone?

May 15, 1988|DENISE GELLENE | Times Staff Writer

Imagine being able to fly anywhere in the country for just $16. The 36,000 employees of Delta Airlines--from vice president to flight attendant--can do just that.

Ever get thirsty on the job? If you worked for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Los Angeles, you could get yourself a free soft drink from a company vending machine.

Here's one for computer nerds: Apple Computer employees don't pay for their PCs. They're on the company.

Delta, Coke Bottling and Apple Computer are among a small cadre of large companies that share their products or services with employees at little or no cost. In many cases, it doesn't cost the company much either.

Take Delta's employee travel passes. The benefit costs Delta practically nothing, says airline spokesman Neil Monroe, because employees can only board a flight when there are unsold seats. The $16 covers what it costs Delta to process an employee ticket.

In scattered pockets of corporate America, employees are getting free meals, free soft drinks, free beer, free cigarettes and free computers. The firms that shower their products on employees say the practice promotes good will.

But many firms say they aren't handing out freebies just to be nice. The giveaways help familiarize workers with a company's products, employers say.

Walt Disney Co. gives Disneyland workers unlimited passes to the Magic Kingdom. By visiting the park on their days off, employees get to know the attractions better. That way, says Bob Roth, Disneyland spokesman, employees can be more helpful to customers.

Of course, if employees used the pass often, it could represent lost revenue to Disney. But the entertainment company isn't concerned. Nice as it is, "you can visit Disneyland only so many times," says Roth.

Besides free visits to Disneyland, Disney employees get a chance to see Disney movies without charge at theaters in Disneyland or at its studio in Burbank. "Three Men and a Baby," a movie produced by Disney's Touchstone Pictures unit, was the featured in-house attraction a month ago.

Other firms with freebies include Philip Morris, which gives employees free cartons of cigarettes, and McDonald's, which gives free meals to employees of its 2,414 company-owned restaurants.

Few companies, however, give free products or services to employees, according to corporation benefits consultants. But Carl Jacobs, a consultant with Sibson & Co. in Los Angeles, says that, in some industries, it's common practice to give employees a break on prices.

It's a widespread practice in the thrift industry to give employees a slightly lower interest rate on home mortgages, for example. And most department stores give employees discounts on clothing and other goods.

In some corporations, the freebies are steeped in tradition. At Adolph Coors Co., brewery workers enjoy free beer at lunch in keeping with a longstanding custom that has gone out of fashion at other American breweries. The Coors family persists "because they think the employees can be trusted not to abuse the product during lunch hours," says Ken Parks, a Coors spokesman.

Workers at Anheuser-Busch Inc.'s Van Nuys brewery and at its 10 other breweries around the country are allowed to take home two cases of beer each month under a year-old policy that replaced the traditional "beer breaks." Workers seem content with the change. During the first three months of this year, 16,581 employees brought home 99,486 cases of beer, with a retail value of $1.2 million.

But John Pollock, a consultant with New World Decisions in Princeton, N.J., says most employers stick to pretty standard benefits packages--and that's the way most employees probably like it. Pollock says his research shows employees want benefits less exotic than product giveaways, such as child care.

"A lot of these exotic benefits don't involve things that really benefit people," says Pollock. "A free Coke when an employee really needs day care, or some other benefit, might not impress the employee very much."

Cindy Yeast, for one, isn't ready to give up her airline travel benefit. "It's not a reason why most people go work for an airline, but without it, the job would be less attractive," says Yeast, a flight attendant and spokeswoman for the Airline Flight Attendants Assn. in Washington. "It's a reward for working for the airline."

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