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The day the axe fell Add to ...

PAULA KLEIN, 44, Leader of R&D operations, Nortel, Ottawa I was at Nortel for 21 years, and it was a work-hard, play-hard type of environment. In the heyday of 1999 and 2000, we were really No. 1; Nortel was totally dominant. At the time, I was working on a project with optical networks, and we were one of the top optical-gear manufacturers in the world, with sales approaching $10 billion a year in that niche alone.

As employees, we were catered to, and compensated extremely well. There were huge summer parties, fitness centres, ski clubs. If you even threatened to leave, they begged you to stay, and dumped all sorts of options on you. They couldn't hire people fast enough.

This past September, though, I knew my job was in jeopardy because I was one of the few people asked to work on a restructuring plan. I would see layoff lists of people who were close personal friends whom I'd worked with for years. It was very depressing. Then we had a team meeting, and found out all of our own positions were going away as well.

My last day was Dec. 15, so there was a lot of uncertainty leading up to the holidays. But at the time, I believed I was going to have a nice severance package, which would be a bridge until I found a new job. Up until then, Nortel had been pretty generous with laid-off employees. Then it filed for creditor protection, and all severance payments stopped.

It was a huge shock. There's a group of us who are owed severance money, and we're still trying to convince Nortel to pay us. We've even had trouble just getting records of employment so we can fill out our EI claims.

In my case, I've taken money out of my savings, cashing out investments to help with car loans and lines of credit. We're far from winding up at a soup kitchen, but this has put a serious and unexpected dent in our retirement. We're being very careful to live within our means, and looking hard for new work. But there aren't a lot of jobs in Ottawa doing the sort of thing I did, so we're looking at maybe moving to Toronto or to the U.S.-wherever I can find work.

I never thought I'd see this happen to Nortel. It'll make a great MBA case study one day.

WHERE SHE IS NOW Paula is still looking for a job. Her last position was a senior one, so she anticipates that it may be awhile before she finds something comparable. She is still trying to persuade Nortel to pay her severance she's owed, and has taken legal steps to make that happen.

CORINNE MCDERMOTT, 37 TV producer, MuchMusic, Toronto I still remember the date: Nov. 27. I was working on a MuchMoreMusic show, Where You At, Baby?, where we tracked down musical superstars from the 1980s and '90s. We hung out at Huey Lewis's ranch in Montana, and visited Twisted Sister singer Dee Snider's home in New York.

We knew the axe was going to fall, but we didn't know how badly we were going to get cut. We had gone through a takeover a few years before, and our department had been untouched. Now we had a feeling it was our time. We got an e-mail that morning saying there was going to be a meeting at 10 a.m., and as soon as I got it, I knew.

Lots of people were upset; there were a lot of tears. It was brutal in the office that day. Over 100 people in the company lost their jobs, and about a third of them were in our immediate department. The channel still exists, but they basically eliminated the whole production department, including the show where J.D. Roberts got his start.

That night we went straight to the bar down the street, the Friar & Firkin. It was packed, as if our entire Queen Street West building had been condensed down into the Friar. The overall mood was not necessarily angry, but bittersweet, sharing stories with each other. I wasn't the only one who had been there for a very long time.

I was five months pregnant at the time, and I was worried about my family's future. But I was one of the lucky ones­—I was given a package that was pretty attractive. It was enough for me to sit back, enjoy my family and make plans for my future. But I had what I call an airplane survivor's guilt, because while it worked out well for me, others were very upset and scared. And still are.

One benefit is that my little three-year-old daughter, Megan, loves having her mommy home. I get to take her to preschool, to swimming lessons, to ballet. It's not going to stay that way forever, but for now life is pretty sweet.

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