Western Wireless said yesterday that it will offer a cash bonus to all employees but its founders as incentive to stay with the company until its proposed merger with Alltel closes later this year.

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Western Wireless said yesterday that it will offer a cash bonus to all employees but its founders as incentive to stay with the company until its proposed merger with Alltel closes later this year.

The Bellevue wireless carrier also outlined how much employees would get if they were laid off in conjunction with the merger.

In January, Alltel agreed to buy Western Wireless for about $6 billion in stock and cash. The deal will create the country’s fifth largest carrier, with about 10 million customers in 33 states.

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Western Wireless outlined the incentive and severance programs in a document filed yesterday with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The merger is awaiting approval by Western Wireless shareholders and the federal government.

The plan includes doling out $20 million to about 2,400 employees by awarding each a cash bonus equal to one year’s salary. The bonus will be paid whether the acquisition closes or not.

The agreement doesn’t include bonuses for five top executives: Chairman and Chief Executive John Stanton; Vice Chairs Donald Guthrie and Theresa Gillespie; President Mikal Thomsen; and International President Bradley Horwitz.

Company Treasurer Steve Winslow said the executives are committed to staying without the bonuses.

“They are significant stockholders. We absolutely want them to stay around,” he said.

The executives will still profit from the transaction without an incentive program. Stanton and his wife, Theresa Gillespie, are Western Wireless’ largest individual shareholders and stand to make about $460 million in cash and stock depending on Alltel’s closing price.

The severance plan, which includes the executives, will be equal to one year of compensation, including salary and bonus. The severance will be paid to employees who are terminated within two years following the merger.

Western Wireless’ plan is somewhat similar to a plan crafted by Kirkland-based Nextel Partners as part of its potential acquisition as a result of the potential merger of Nextel Communications and Sprint.

Nextel Communications, which owns 32 percent of Nextel Partners, could be required to buy most or all of Nextel Partners if the shareholders vote to sell the remainder of the company after the Sprint-Nextel merger becomes final.

In the Nextel Partners’ incentive package, all executives would receive the equivalent of their base salary and annual bonus. Under its severance package, executives would receive a cash payment twice their salary and bonus in addition to medical and dental benefits for two years if they leave within a year of a sale.

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