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AOL: We need to fire 2,500 'volunteers'

Layoff program begins December 4, just before spinoff from Time Warner. AOL says cuts will drop its annual operating expenses by $300 million.

AOL, which has already told investors that it will spend up to $200 million firing a good chunk of its staff, has now told its employees. It is looking for "up to 2,500 volunteers," CEO Tim Armstrong told his staff Thursday. That's a third of the company's payroll.

The voluntary layoff program begins December 4, a few days before the company spins off from Time Warner. If AOL doesn't get enough volunteers, it will ax people on its own.

This is lousy news for employees, who are faced with a "jump now or wait to be pushed" decision, but it is designed to cheer investors: AOL says the cuts will drop its annual operating expenses by $300 million. Through the first nine months of this year, AOL's operating expenses ran around $1.8 billion.

Meanwhile, AOL is looking to shed some parts of its business altogether. It has hired bankers to sell off its ICQ messaging service and is considering dumping MapQuest, among other assets.

Armstrong's (expensive) goodwill gesture: He is giving up his 2009 bonus, which was to be at least $1.5 million. His explanation to employees: "As a member of our team and the person who takes accountability for the results of the company, I am making the decision to forgo my 2009 bonus. That decision is a personal one and is not a sign for the future payout of the overall bonus plan for employees."

Here's the text of the company's filing with the SEC:

On November 19, 2009, AOL Inc. (the "Company") informed its employees of proposed restructuring activities as part of its continuing cost reduction initiatives aimed at aligning the Company's organizational structure and costs with its strategy (the "Restructuring"). The Restructuring is conditioned upon the successful completion of the Company's previously announced spin-off from Time Warner Inc. (the "Spin-off"), as well as the approval of the Company's new Board of Directors that will begin service in connection with the Spin-off. It is anticipated that, if approved, the Restructuring will include the reduction of approximately a third of the Company's current employee base, which will be conducted on a voluntary and involuntary basis. The goal of the Restructuring is to reduce ongoing annual operating costs by approximately $300 million. If the Restructuring is approved, the Company expects to incur restructuring charges of up to $200 million, substantially all of which is expected to be incurred from the date of the Spin-off through the first half of 2010.