Just two weeks after the final “Oprah” show aired, Harpo Studios announced plans to lay off an unspecified amount of workers.
Under state law, the Oprah Winfrey-owned, Chicago-based production company is required to file a notice with the Illinois Department of Employment Security of any plans for “mass layoffs,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
From the Sun-Times:
The act requires employers with 75 or more full-time workers to give 60 days notice to their employees, unions and the state of a plant closing or mass layoff. A mass layoff is defined as 25 or more full-time employees if they constitute one third or more of the full-time employees at the site.
“Employees are being notified on a departmental basis whether their jobs will be eliminated,” a Harpo spokeswoman told Crain’s Chicago Business. “Most of those leaving us are doing so voluntarily to pursue other interests.”
Harpo reportedly employed 400 full- and part-time employees at the end of last year.
Winfrey came to Chicago in 1984 to WLS-TV’s morning talk show, “A.M. Chicago.” A month later the show was No. 1 in the market. A year later it was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
During those early days Winfrey had a small corner office with two rows of desks where her producers sat, remembers Joel Daly, a retired longtime news anchor for the ABC affiliate.
“You’d go down after her show and she’d be walking around in a bathrobe and slippers,” Daly said.
Winfrey outgrew those quarters, getting more studio space until she opened Harpo Studios on Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood in 1990.
“We moved here 10 years ago to a section of Randolph Street that was pretty desolate, but it always felt safer because we knew Harpo was down the street,” said Ina Pinkney, who owns the breakfast and lunch restaurant Ina’s.
Winfrey is often given credit for transforming the once-gritty industrial enclave to a neighborhood filled with families pushing strollers and walking their dogs. Former Mayor Richard M. Daley even named a nearby street for the talk show queen before he retired.
Rosie O’Donnell will begin taping her new, nationally syndicated talk show in the West Side studio this fall. The one-hour show will air on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network.
As for the layoffs, a Harpo spokeswoman told Crain’s they would be going on through the summer months.
“We are tracking on a daily basis the number of employees who have accepted new positions or leave voluntarily vs. those who . . . suffer an ’employment loss’ within the meaning of the law. . . . All employees were made aware of this rightsizing months ago.”