RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — AW North Carolina knows how to handle work force reductions, especially after fighting desperately to keep from cutting what the company calls “Team Members.”

All one has to do is read the announcement AW posted Thursday afternoon after employees had been told through the course of the day that cuts were being made. Compare its content and tone with those used by other firms such as IBM, which won’t discuss layoffs publicly except through limited comments about resource actions,” and Nortel, which completely bungled the news that its laid-off employees would lose previously promised severance benefits due to the company’s bankruptcy filing.

Here goes:

DURHAM , N.C. (January 22, 09) – AW North Carolina today shared with Team Members at our facility here several work scheduling changes and options available to salaried Team Members during this challenging period for automotive manufacturers and dealers worldwide.

“We told Team Members that because of the continued economic downturn in the automotive business world, beginning Friday, January 23, the salaried workforce is being offered an opportunity to take a voluntary severance package should they so desire.

“AW North Carolina also announced that approximately 280 of our 1,100 Team Members here will be placed on temporary time off for several weeks and will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits and will continue to receive company paid medical benefits during that time.

“Over the past several months, we have evaluated a number of options and scenarios as we determine what is in the best, long-term interest of AW-NC and our Team Members. We have periodically suspended daily production of transmissions and assigned production Team Members to other projects, special training, and skills improvement in many areas. We hope these past and current actions demonstrate how much we value AW-NC Team Members.

“We don’t know precisely what the production needs will be in coming months for transmissions and components we manufacture here. We will continue to evaluate developments in the automotive marketplace as well as our anticipated production needs. No specific timetables to complete this evaluation have been set at this time.

“During these recent months, our Team Members have been as patient, flexible and understanding as possible. Going forward, we are asking our Team Members to remain flexible as the automotive industry assesses 2009 and adjusts to meet our products’ demand.

“Beyond this, we prefer not to speculate further and will share information about our decision-making as appropriate."

Will Collins, head of human resources, provided the statement. After WRAL.com posted a story about the temporary idling of so many workers, he called to question the use of the word “layoffs” and insisted that AW intended to bring back its “Team Members” as quickly as possible.

The furloughs didn’t come as a surprise, given the state of the auto industry. Even Toyota, the new global No. 1 in sales after having passed GM, is having hard times. And Toyota is AW’s top customer.

The Skinny, frankly, was struck by the compassion Collins and the company demonstrated toward its employees. AW last fall even secured a grant from the state to provide training for workers so they could stay on the payroll rather than hit the unemployment lines.

Japanese-owned firms have for decades demonstrated in many, many cases an incredible loyalty to employees. “Team Members” is not, in these cases, a cliché. The term fits.

Oh if only more American companies could embrace such an attitude.