January 15. 2013 5:48PM

71 workers at Brookstone in Merrimack laid off

Union Leader Correspondent

MERRIMACK - A state labor official said 71 employees from the Brookstone, Inc., headquarters in Merrimack were laid off, which represents about 23 percent of the workforce at the local facility.

According to Dave Wihby of the New Hampshire Department of Labor, 71 workers from a total of 305 local Brookstone employees were laid off during a company restructuring Monday.

"It is affecting just their corporate side, not their retail (stores)," said Wihby. "They feel bad about it."

Brookstone officials are working with representatives from the Department of Resources and Economic Development to provide assistance to the workers, according to Wihby. The company did not notify the Department of Labor prior to announcing the layoffs, which would be required if the company employed at least 100 full-time employees, and one-third of those full-time workers were laid off, explained Wihby.

"It is my understanding that they don't reach that level - they are less than 33 percent," he added.

Michael Power, community outreach administrator for the Office of Workforce Opportunity within the Department of Resources and Economic Development, said he was unaware of the layoffs until he read it in Tuesday's New Hampshire Union Leader.

"We called Brookstone immediately," said Power, adding a business resource specialist was assigned to meet with Brookstone representatives Tuesday.

"This is not just 71 people - this is 71 families," said Power. "It includes children and spouses, and we want to help them as soon as possible. We don't want to waste a day."

His department will send in a rapid response team as soon as possible to meet with employees and inform them about services that are available. Employees will be told how to file for unemployment, write an updated resume, brush up on interviewing skills and receive job training, said Power. An individual reemployment plan will be established for each worker being laid off at Brookstone, according to Power, who said company officials are cooperating.

"Brookstone is a great company. They have worked with us before," he said. "Unfortunately, this happens in all companies."

Brookstone, Inc., a retailer of innovative gadgets and specialty items, revealed Monday that it laid off a significant amount of workers, but would not disclose actual numbers.

"Brookstone implemented a restructuring plan designed to reposition the company for continued growth and success. The reorganization included eliminating positions that represent less than 3 percent of the company's total workforce," a spokesman said in a statement, refusing to elaborate on what sector of its employees were being let go. "This reorganization will streamline our operations and allow us to invest further in product development, our retail stores, our website and customer service."

The 3 percent mentioned by Brookstone in its brief statement refers to its entire workforce nationwide, according to Wihby. The layoffs come exactly one year after former president and chief executive officer of the company, Ron Boire, announced his resignation from Brookstone.

Pauline Collins, public relations manager at Brookstone, refused to comment on the layoffs.

Pam Szacik, director of N.H. Employment Security, said Tuesday that she was first notified of the Brookstone layoffs Tuesday after being contacted by a newspaper reporter.

"We just received our first correspondence with Brookstone this morning," she said Tuesday. "All of the information is just coming in now."

Brookstone operates about 290 stores, while also offering the Brookstone catalog and website. Its headquarters are at 1 Innovation Way in Merrimack.

As of last month, New Hampshire's preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.7 percent compared to the December 2011 seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for last month was 7.8 percent, according to a recent release from NHES. Those estimates place the number of unemployed residents in New Hampshire at 42,030, which is about 3,520 more unemployed individuals than in December 2011, the release reported.