Cingular Wireless said yesterday it was laying off 155 high-level employees in Washington state and an undisclosed number nationwide as part of its merger with AT&T Wireless...

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Cingular Wireless said yesterday it was laying off 155 high-level employees in Washington state and an undisclosed number nationwide as part of its merger with AT&T Wireless.

The Atlanta-based company kept its promise not to cut staff until the New Year but did not waste time handing out pink slips as 2005 started.

Yesterday’s announcement represented the first wave of cutbacks as the combined company seeks to reduce its 68,000 head count by about 10 percent over the next year or so. Those in this wave will start leaving as early as March 7 but could stay up to 18 months, according to the company.

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Affected employees include some in the former AT&T Wireless headquarters in Redmond Town Center and some in offices in Bothell and Seattle. AT&T Wireless had about 31,000 employees in the United States, about 5,700 in Washington.

“The positions that were notified nationwide were noncustomer-facing administrative functions, including marketing, legal, human resources and senior management,” said Cingular spokeswoman Lauren Garner.

In determining who stays and who goes, Cingular is starting at the top and working its way down the chain of command. In this round, employees from director to vice-president level were affected.

Garner said Cingular isn’t playing favorites between the two companies, but rather is picking the best employees from both.

So far, up to one-third of senior-level employees who will continue to work for the company are from AT&T Wireless, she said, adding that the layoffs would not have been as severe in Washington if some employees offered jobs had accepted them.

“Some were offered positions and didn’t want to relocate,” she said.

Garner declined to say how many people were being let go across the country.

Several officers of the former AT&T Wireless left, including Chief Executive John Zeglis and President Michael Keith. Other executives, such as Chief Information Officer Chris Corrado, found new jobs.

Garner said she did not know when the next round of layoffs would occur.

In February, Cingular won a bidding auction to buy AT&T Wireless for $41 billion in cash. The acquisition became final in October after it received government approval.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com