Companies try pay freezes to avoid layoffs

"Employers are battening down the hatches," said John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a placement firm. "I think pay freezes are going to be widespread as companies struggle to hold on and wait out the recession."

And though he foresees more layoffs, Challenger said companies are aware that layoffs carry their own costs, financial and otherwise.

"You can lose company know-how," Challenger said. "Important relationships disappear that make cuts much more costly. You can't just get that back when you hire new people when times get better."

The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio imposed a hiring and salary freeze across its 33,000-worker health system in December. Aluminum producer Alcoa aa, which this month said it was slashing 13,500 workers worldwide, has also imposed a salary and hiring freeze.

Luxury retailer Saks sks is axing 1,100 jobs, eliminating merit raises and suspending matching contributions to its 401(k) plan.

Caterpillar cat, the world's biggest maker of mining and construction equipment, in late December said it was cutting executive compensation up to 50%. It's also suspending merit pay increases for managers and support staff.

Earlier that month, FedEx fdx said it was cutting pay for senior executives and freezing 401(k) contributions for a year. And AK Steel Holding aks is cutting pay for salaried employees.

At the White House, those affected by Obama's decision to freeze pay for the roughly 100 employees who make more than $100,000 include the chief of staff, the national security adviser and the press secretary.

Connelly called Obama's announcement "tone-setting leadership" and offered a new twist on an old saying: "Saving the buck starts here."

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