Approximately 500 out of a possible 3,000 employees at the ABC Television Network have opted to take the company’s voluntary buyout offering, completing the first step of a companywide downsizing.

Staffers had until last Friday to decide to take the offer, which was made available to all non-union employees in December.

At that time, then-company president John Sias cautioned that if a significant number of employees did not agree to take the package, layoffs could follow.

While the company never publicly discussed a goal for the project, it is believed that the company was targeting 500 employees to take the offer.

“There wasn’t really a goal specified,” an ABC spokeswoman said yesterday. She added that department heads were now in the process of analyzing the impact on their divisions. Thus, the potential for additional layoffs is unclear.

Moreover, it’s possible that someone wanting to take the package could be enticed to stay because the company deems them necessary to the operation; that ultimately could affect the total buyout tally.

In addition to six months of medical benefits, placement help and payment for unused vacation time, employees opting for the plan also will receive severance packages well above the company’s usual offerings. In some cases, those packages contain up to 112 weeks’ pay above and beyond the traditional severance deal.

Union-represented employees or those covered under personal service contracts with the web were eligible for the package. Those taking the deal must leave by Feb. 19.

Capital Cities/ABC, parent of the ABC Television Network, recently reported that the company’s net earnings dropped 28% during the past year, which included a “significant” decline in operating income and a “small earnings decline” at the television network.

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