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AST LAYOFFS: ANOTHER JOLT FOR O.C. : It Turned Dark at Dawn in Fountain Valley Plant : Jobless: A 6 a.m. meeting brought word of layoff and imminent closure. The 100 who lost jobs immediately are told personally by supervisors.


FOUNTAIN VALLEY — The bad news broke at dawn.

Jose Corvarruvias, a stockroom worker at AST Research Inc.'s manufacturing facility in Fountain Valley, learned of the plant's pending closure at 6 a.m.--two hours into what turned out to be his last day on the job.

"Yesterday they told us that there would be a meeting at 6 o'clock this morning," Corvarruvias said Friday as he commiserated with a fellow worker in the parking lot. "There's been lots of rumors lately but nothing for sure . . . until now."

Debra Harris, 35, heard about AST's restructuring on a radio broadcast as she was driving to work. "That was not very nice," said Harris, a senior buyer and planner.

Most employees, though, got the word--that 440 of them will be out of work soon--from AST executives during two early morning meetings inside the plant. Supervisors subsequently told employees personally if they were among the first 100 to go.

AST, projecting a $40-million loss for its first fiscal quarter, blames the closing of its Fountain Valley plant on a fierce price war in the personal computer market and new-product delays. And the company had warned as early as last November that it would be consolidating some operations.

The layoff, however, also reflects a continuing erosion of electronics assembly jobs in Orange County and nationwide.

Nearly 14,000 such jobs have disappeared in Orange County since 1998, according to industry data. Among the hardest hit have been recent arrivals, particularly Asian and Latino immigrants and refugees. Asians in particular have gone into electronics assembly work, said Marianne Blank, executive director of St. Anselm Cross-Cultural Community Center in Garden Grove, a nonprofit group that has helped thousands of refugees, most from Southeast Asia, find jobs.

Orange County job retraining program administrators urged AST employees who get pink slips to take advantage of job retraining and career planning services available through the company and government agencies.

"Sometimes it takes awhile for people to let the grief settle," said Margo West, manager of planning for the Private Industry Council, which oversees the county's federally funded jobs retraining programs. "But we really feel that the programs give individuals an assist, give them some options for the future."

AST said Friday that counselors are helping employees refine interviewing skills and update resumes. The company is also contacting other employers to help locate job openings. And workers dismissed Friday will receive their regular salaries and medical benefits for the next two months.

But West acknowledged that job prospects in Southern California's ailing high-tech industries are not bright.

"There does seem to be a slight upturn in the economy," West said. "But clearly the shift in jobs in Orange County has been to the service jobs, where wages are not generally compatible with what these people are leaving."

Friday's layoffs were doubly painful for AST employees, Corvarruvias among them, who survived last November's layoffs.

"The first time they had a work reduction they combined my job with others," said Corvarruvias, a 33-year-old Santa Ana resident. "I hoped I was safe."

Harris, a 35-year-old Fountain Valley resident who purchased materials for AST from international suppliers, hopes to sign on with some other Orange County company involved in foreign trade.

"In a way this is a relief," he said. "It's been very stressful for all of us for a long time now. Today is the day they finally pulled the plug."

Harris, who started sending resumes out earlier this week, said she is "networking with everyone I know. That's the key. I learned from a layoff eight years ago with another company that you have to be prepared."

Times staff writer Don Lee contributed to this report.

AST Research Locations

In addition to 43 sales, service and marketing offices in 100 countries, AST has six manufacturing facilities worldwide. One of those, in Fountain Valley, is scheduled to close by Feb. 1.


* Function: Corporate headquarters. Includes administrative and executive offices, marketing, engineering and sales

* Employees: About 800

* Facility: 225,000 square feet


Fountain Valley

* Function: Slated for closure Feb. 1; now makes notebook computers and multiprocessor servers for worldwide markets

* Employees: About 440

* Facility: 250,000-square-foot leased facility

Fort Worth

* Function: Manufacture of desktop computers and server PCs for North and South American markets; worldwide service and technical support

* Employees: About 1,700

* Facility: 316,000-square-foot Tandy facility acquired in 1993

Hong Kong

* Function: Manufacture of desktop and server PCs for Asian Pacific market

* Employees: About 2,000

* Facility: 150,000 square feet


* Function: Manufacture of notebook computers for worldwide markets

* Employees: About 240

* Facility: 50,000 square feet

Limerick, Ireland

* Function: Manufacture of desktop and server PCs for European market; also serves as European distribution center.

* Employees: About 400

* Facility: 340,000 square feet


* Function: Manufacture of desktop computers and server PCs for Asian Pacific market and printed circuit board assembly for worldwide markets

* Employees: About 100

* Facility: Two plants totaling 388,000 square feet in Tianjin and Dongguan.

Source: AST Research; Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

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