Monday, April 27, 2009

First they came for the coffee

How American capitalism will seize the opportunity presented by this economic crisis to turn back the clock on everything we define as a workplace benefit.

It starts with the easy wins -- the things they know we can't argue, like the free lunch and the company christmas party. Some of the big ticket items raise eyebrows -- the annual sales meeting, the sports sponsorships, the ad campaign -- but it feels like bling-com holdovers we have outgrown.

A few cryptic company emails about cutting corners, masked in conservationism and corporate citizenship. You are too overworked to notice.

You are too busy because new hires are frozen, and some of the "fat" (read: low status drones without connections or last names people can readily recollect. At Simmons, they called these "randoms.") are being escorted out. A partner, vendor, or big client hits the skids, and this seems like a good reason to cut loose anyone affiliated with those projects. The projects go forward.

You begin to notice that in spite of there being no Jobs in America, there is no shortage of WORK to be done. You are recast as the ones worth keeping ("so don't prove us wrong") but not worth the raise you earned or the investment in your future savings. A skilled worker brings his own tools, so please provide pens and paper. And, while you're at it.... think about providing your own insurance.

In Massachusetts, you have heard, health care is an individual's responsibility. Give the Company an inch, they will take a mile.

True story: as an incentive to take a "healthcare survey," the Company offered a drawing for answering the following questions, which I am not even sure are legal.
1. How much did you and your family spend ...for health care in 2008?
2. What do you think is the average cost for a visit to a primary care doctor?
3. What do you think is the average cost for an emergency room visit?
4. What do you think is the average cost for having a baby?
5. Have you registered on [we are watching your]?
6-8 are about this website
9. Do you and your family members get regular preventive care?
10. If not, why not? [chills just now]
question 14: What is your age?
What is your age.

If you don't think this is a potential blacklist, you have not read enough American history.

While perhaps not rolling in excess of the heyday, The Company can certainly afford to provide soda and coffee. They can afford the 401 match. Even with "First Tier" and European prices, they can afford health insurance. But today they find they can cry poor and cut all the amenities that had become a staple of the American workplace. And I don't mean dogs at work and Xboxes and free TV handouts. I mean benefits, balance, a few niceties. A coffee cup. A MAMMOGRAM.

When the economy gets that bad, companies fold. They don't give away a million in charity and turn out their pockets at the workforce. Don't let them tell you, don't let yourself say it out loud, (and I know you already have) "I'm just glad to have a job." Are you? At any cost?

From here "be glad you have a job" spreads to "if you don't want this job, there are plenty who do," until we are back in the 1830s and The Man owns us. The Millennials will walk away because their stakes are still low. They will go back to retail and travel industry, back to the bike shop, and live happy-hippy lives of ski bums and service workers who are in bands on the weekends. They will never save a dime, but they will also never be in debt. Or they will move to Malaysia, because why not? All their friends are on My Space anyway, and you can get free healthcare if you ex-pat to Europe.

But the Gen Ys are getting married, and the Gen Xrs are stuck in upside-down equity and 2nd and 3rd pregnancies. And we LateBoomers are just trying to get through the next 20 years with perscription coverage. If you did indeed promise your 10 year-old self, "I want to claw my way to middle management," congratulations. You made it.

You know that your company defines your "compensation package" as the total payout, and that is getting smaller. Your salary may be the same (if you have not been furloughed) but your value has been diminished. Don't fool yourself.

Click here for your preferred inspirational theme song:
Billy Don't Be a Hero
Big Rock Candy Mountain
ILGW - Look for the Union Label
Bread & Roses

Happy May Day Brothers and Sisters


  1. Seriously - my company still has 5 Billion Dollars! really? suspension of match and tuition reimbursement, no raises, hiring freeze, no extras. I wish I had gone to trade school... hmmm that's an idea


  2. I am glad I have a job. It may not give me a lot to do, but at least I have, for now, a regular income and there is a lot to be said for that. My fear is that without it, I would have nothing to do and no reason to get out of bed!! M.

  3. I had my first week of unpaid furlough last week (to take care of an elderly parent). Didn't there used to be a thing called the the Family and Medical Leave Act? Still have to take a second unpaid week before June 30 (all of this announced in early April). I not thankful to have a job as the company takes advantage of the bad economy to treat employees badly. Where's the respect for the workforce? And what will the workforce look like when abusing employees has become the norm?

  4. Oh Paper Lace. And I actually have a framed copy of this poster in my bathroom. What do those two factoids make me? I love this blog entry btw--you are still my favorite blogger.

  5. I was just chatting with a friend about how liberating it would be for millions if we simply had national healthcare not tied to employers. More people would be freed to pursue vocation they are truly passionate about, and that would have a profoundly positive economic effect imo.


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