Enron's Human Toll, One Year Later

ByGina Treadgold

H O U S T O N, Nov. 27, 2002 -- Former Enron worker Diana Peters has no time for regrets. She has house payments to make, groceries to buy and no health insurance.

Peters was one of 17,000 employees laid off last year from Enron, after the energy company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last December. She misses her co-workers, she misses the paycheck and wishes she had the $50,000 that was once in her 401(k) account.

"Our boss stood in front of us and read her little script of, 'You have 30 minutes to pack your personal belongings and vacate the building,'" she recalled. "And it dawned on me that it's over … All of us left with nothing. It was like a mass funeral."

Peters decided to fight back. She spent days at the law library researching her options. Could Enron legally do what it did to employees? She became so well-versed on employment and pension law that she was recruited to serve on the employees committee for the bankruptcy.

She is fighting to get someone in Congress to sponsor a bill to prevent companies from laying off employees who are on medical leave.

"I'm not a quitter. I'm not going to give up," said Peters. "And I really believe that if you get up and give it everything you can, God takes care of you."

Peters has started her own company cleaning houses and office buildings and putting up holiday decorations. She is struggling to make her house payments, and to keep medical insurance for her husband Dale, who has an inoperable brain tumor.

"I'm very frightened," she said. "I'm not going to lie about. I'm 50 years old. I have nothing to my name except my house and if I don't keep my mortgage payments up, I won't have that either."

Still Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Charles Prestwood once believed in Enron. He spent 33 years working at one of its natural gas plants. His Enron stock was once worth $1.3 million. It is now worth $4,000.

"I thought that by working for a good corporation, working a long time on the job, when a person would finally get old enough and retire off that job, that he could be happy and not have [an] extravagant life or anything — but have a normal life," he said. "But I found out that that's not always so."

Enron is not the same company it was a year ago. There is nothing left to identify its headquarters in downtown Houston. The big 'E's are gone, the flag is gone, to be auctioned off next week. And next month it will begin auctioning off its 12 remaining core assets, natural gas pipelines and electric utilities. It will evolve into a new company, and by the end of the year it will drop the name "Enron".

But none of that is likely to help the former Enron workers like Prestwood, who is trying to make ends meet on Social Security and what is left of his pension. "I'm not living," he said. "I'm barely existing, is what it is. In other words, beans and rice sound very good to me."

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