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AWE: Mouth Wide Shut?

When it comes to phone etiquette, "keep your mouth shut" seems to be AT&T Wireless Services Inc.'s (NYSE: AWE) favored corporate policy.

That's the strategy the carrier has been rigorously applying in response to rumors about massive job cuts at the company, just a day after launching a national campaign to encourage users to tone down the volume of their public conversations (see US Mobile Users Are Rude).

According to the Wall Street Journal, the carrier plans to cut 3 percent of its 31,000-strong workforce by the end of 2003 -- or about 1,000 workers. The report states that 200 workers spent their last day at the company on Monday and a further 300 are scheduled to be laid off this month. Another 500 will be shown the door in later rounds. These cuts would follow a net reduction in the company’s workforce of approximately 2,000 last year.

The third largest wireless carrier in the U.S. (based on subscriber numbers) is refusing to publicly confirm the size of the planned cuts.

“We haven’t confirmed anything on the record,” says Mark Siegel, VP of marketing media relations. “All I can say is that we are consolidating staff jobs. Right now, a lot of marketing, IT, human resources, and public relations work is scattered around the country, and there is obvious efficiency to be had from putting that work in our central headquarters [New York City, New Jersey, and Redmond, Washington] rather than dozens of different sites.”

The carrier’s tight-lipped stance dovetails nicely with a series of national "wireless etiquette" adverts it launched yesterday urging commuters not to shout into their phones when in public places, combined with a campaign promoting a top ten list of tips for courteous wireless phone use.

However, despite its reluctance to speak up, the carrier did manage to hint that the reported staff cuts are only the first step towards obtaining what Siegel terms “industry-leading margins.”

“Based on what we have seen so far this year, the process is not finished yet -- it has barely begun. Some employees will be affected this year, some next. It is part of a much larger effort to transform the business.”

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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