Large-scale Wells Fargo layoffs hit home in this North Carolina county

Large-scale Wells Fargo layoffs hit home in this North Carolina county
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Deon Roberts and Rick Rothacker| The Charlotte Observer) - Wells Fargo is behind one of the biggest layoffs in the state in the past five years, a move that will hit a small eastern North Carolina county especially hard.

In March, the San Francisco bank disclosed plans to lay off 593 workers in Pitt County in Eastern North Carolina, the latest step in a consolidation push that previously impacted Charlotte and other U.S. markets. Wells said the changes are part of adjustments to its auto-lending operations that have faced regulatory scrutiny lately.

The layoffs were the largest the bank has disclosed in North Carolina through a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, or WARN, notice in the past five years, an Observer analysis found. It was also among the largest layoffs disclosed by any company in the state during that period.

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Pitt County officials are bracing to absorb the job cuts in a county that has fewer than 200,000 residents. By comparison, if a company planned to bring 300 new jobs to the county it would be a huge deal, said Glen Webb, Pitt County Board of Commissioners vice chairman.

"Losing 600 jobs is a really big bite to take," Webb said.

Wells Fargo said the decision to close the facility in Greenville was not made lightly. Wells Fargo said the work will be relocated to Raleigh; Minneapolis; Chandler, Arizona; and Irving, Texas. Employees will be offered relocation assistance, the bank said.

"We won't know the true impact until we work with team members over the coming months to understand how many will relocate to one of the hubs, work remotely or find other positions within Wells Fargo," the bank said in a statement. The decision to pull out of Greenville is part of a broader strategy to centralize functions in hubs and deliver improved experiences for employees and customers, Wells Fargo said.

Across the state, Wells employs about 32,900, including approximately 25,100 in Charlotte. Pitt County is home to about 680 Wells Fargo employees, including the 593 affected by the closure.

The layoffs come as Wells Fargo has embarked on a plan to streamline expenses by more than $4 billion per year by the end of 2019.

The cuts are also taking place in a part of the bank that has drawn recent penalties from regulators. Last month, the bank agreed to pay $1 billion partly to settle allegations the bank improperly forced customers to maintain auto insurance they didn't need.

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Big cuts

The Pitt County cuts produced the eighth-largest WARN notice submitted to North Carolina officials from 2013-2017, tying Daimler Trucks North America for a temporary layoff in Gaston County in 2016, according to the Observer's analysis. The largest WARN notice for a bank in that period had previously been Charlotte-based Bank of America's 382 jobs cuts in Charlotte in 2014.

Wells Fargo's other layoffs in the period affected 27 jobs in 2013 and 87 in 2016, all in Raleigh. Prior to 2013, the company's most significant layoffs had been 548 in Charlotte in 2009 after it bought Wachovia.

WARN notices don't cover all layoffs, just plant closings and other actions that meet certain criteria under the law.

But they provide details on some of the larger job reductions that companies take. The bank's most recent WARN notice in South Carolina showed 120 job cuts in Fort Mill mortgage operations in 2017.

Scouting for new employees

Last year, Wells detailed plans in internal memos to close regional offices in Wells Fargo Dealer Services, which makes consumer loans for new and used vehicles. The initiative included plans for 57 regional business center offices to be closed, including one in Charlotte at 4525 Sharon Road, the bank said at the time.

Affected Pitt County workers are expected to receive formal notices starting in June, with layoffs occurring through the end of the year, Wells Fargo said.

Following its planned job cuts in Pitt County, Wells Fargo could lose some business from local governments. Pitt County and Greenville officials said have they are preparing to accept proposals from banks to handle the accounts held by Wells Fargo. Officials said this is not a punitive action, noting Wells is welcome to submit a proposal.

Meanwhile, Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly said officials are seeking to bring in another employer to replace the Wells Fargo jobs they expect to lose.

Officials hope to work with the bank to find a new owner for its Greenville facility or someone to lease it. Some companies have shown interest, he said.