Diverse Group of Enron Corp. Employees Go to Washington

Article excerpt

When Dorothy Ricketts was growing up in St. Joseph, La., in the 1960s, she remembers going to a segregated laundromat, but her family generally shielded her from the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement.

And even though Ricketts only read about how Rosa Parks used a Montgomery, Ala., bus to wage a protest for change, Ricketts found this chapter in civil rights history useful earlier this year when she and a diverse group of former Enron Corp. workers bused their way to Washington, D.C., the day of President Bush's State of the Union address.

"I made the trip because people need to know that this shouldn't happen again to anyone," says Ricketts, 46, a former business analyst for the giant energy company, who took part in the "Journey for Justice," a 24-hour bus trip from Houston to Washington organized by Jesse L. Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

Enron declared bankruptcy Dec. 2, and its off-the-books partnerships and other questionable accounting practices are being probed by the Justice Department and several congressional panels. But Ricketts says the employees had no idea they were on the verge of losing their jobs and their life savings in their 401(k) plans.

"Most of the African Americans at Enron worked ten-hour days because there was a feeling that they only picked the best," Ricketts says. "[CEO] Kenneth Lay was very friendly and down to earth."

Jackson and Texas leaders of his organization brought the Enron employees to Washington to meet with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and other top Democrats about ways to protect workers' retirement funds. They also staged a protest outside the Houston energy giant in an effort to keep the light on the issue.

Enron owes its creditors billions, but Jackson says the company should also appropriately compensate its laid-off employees. "Workers should be on the front side of recovery, not the back," he told reporters in January.

Though Jackson's bus trip gave Black Enron employees exposure, lawmakers offered little more than sympathy.

As Vice President of Brand Management and Strategic Marketing, Dennis Vegas was one of the top executives at Enron before he was laid off. …