The U.S. accounting firm Arthur Andersen seems to be fighting for its corporate life these days. It has been indicted in connection with the collapse of energy trading company Enron, and has lost many major clients. Thousands of Andersen workers are now rallying in support of their employer.
Andersen's world headquarters is in downtown Chicago, and on Friday, the building lobby was packed with cheering workers. "Are you proud of Andersen?" asks a woman at the loudspeaker.
"Yeah," the crowd replies enthusiastically.
This was among several rallies by Andersen workers around the country in recent days in support of their company. Michelle Ivy is a receptionist hoping to keep her job. "I am going to fight this until the end," she tells the cheering crowd. "They are going to have to wheel me out of here in my chair."
The federal government is charging Andersen with obstruction of justice in connection with the collapse of Enron last year. Andersen acknowledges that some of its workers shredded Enron documents as the government began its investigation of that company's collapse, but U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is among those who feel indicting Andersen as a firm is unfair to most of its 85,000 workers around the world.
"There is justice in holding any person who worked at Andersen who is guilty of wrongdoing accountable for their wrongdoing," he tells the cheering crowd. "But there is no justice in punishing thousands of innocent employees at Andersen for the crimes of a few."
During the last several weeks, Andersen has lost many of its major clients. Its overseas affiliates in Hong Kong, China, Russia and New Zealand have announced their intention to join rival accounting firms. Workers in Chicago are among Andersen employees who feel they could be out of work if their company continues to lose clients.
A few thousand Andersen workers spilled into Chicago streets around midday Friday, marching a few blocks to the U.S. government's Chicago offices.
Mike Curtis carried a sign labeling the Department of Justice a "destroyer of jobs." It is just disappointing," Mr. Curtis says. "I think it was unnecessary, the indictment against the whole firm, rather than them [the Justice Department] undertaking an effort to find out who actually did bad things and acting against them."
Amy Statton has worked as a project manager at Andersen for seven years. It is very emotional, very intense. I broke down crying twice, yesterday. It is hard to do your job and hard to know that, tomorrow, you might not have a job," she says.
One woman, Nakia Glenn, poked her face through a hole in a sign reading, "I am the face of Andersen." She is also uncertain about her future. "To be honest with you, I really do not know" she says. "There is a lot of speculation, a lot of rumor, a lot of uncertainty. I do not even know if I will still be with Andersen in the next six months."
Andersen has pleaded not guilty to charges against it. The company goes on trial in May.
Photos and video in this report by Michael Leland, VOA