Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer had harsh words for the former leaders of a Fresno company that effectively laid off a reported 900 employees nationwide.
Bitwise Industries has been a virtual ghost since the May 29 announcement that all employees were “furloughed.” A lawsuit on behalf of employees alleges they were laid off in violation of the state WARN Act requiring 60 days’ notice of pending terminations.
Any suspected criminal act would be referred to the proper authorities, City Attorney Andrew Janz said last week.
The company has made no public comment other than that the Bitwise board of directors fired co-CEOs Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr. on June 2.
Job Fair on June 16
Dyer, at a Friday news conference at City Hall, said the city will hold a job fair on June 16.
“The goal really is to turn something that was very, very evil into something that’s very, very good,” Dyer said.
Dyer hopes that the city and other local businesses hire an estimated 400 Bitwise employees let go in Fresno.
The mayor said of Soberal and Olguin: “They performed a calloused act to their employees and they victimized their employees and they potentially victimized investors. So I don’t have necessarily an opinion of them. I can just tell you what happened, what was a result of their actions. They have to live with what happened.”
Bitwise Executive on Hand
Dyer was joined by councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Annalisa Perea; Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board; and Thilani Grubel, a Bitwise vice president.
Grubel did not want to speak, and her current employment status is unknown.
Dyer said she did not have anything to do with her company’s collapse.
“Absolutely not. I don’t believe anybody in that organization that was a paid employee knew what was happening. And there is absolutely nothing that points towards that. I believe that the folks below Jake and Irma were all victims,” Dyer said.
Neither Dyer nor Perea blamed the Bitwise board of directors. Dyer said they were “caught off guard” by Soberal and Olguin, too.
After this story published, Karbassi said the Bitwise board “is irresponsible.”
“I hope there is a probe. How can they not know?” Karbassi said.
City Terminates $1 Million Bitwise Grant
The Fresno City Council voted 6-0 to cancel any remaining business with Bitwise on Thursday.
Last year, the city awarded a $1 million grant with Bitwise through federal ARPA funds. The money was to help small businesses adapt to new technology in the post-pandemic world.
Bitwise received half of that grant, $500,000, and has accounted for $120,00 thus far, city officials said. The next accounting documentation is due next month.
“We believed in them just like … investors believed in them. And just like the employees believed in them,” Dyer said.