by Mariam Williams
When a total of about 30,000 jobs were cut from various companies on Monday, my mother and I started wondering, are all these companies really as bad off as they say they are? Even before that number increased to over 100,000 by week’s end, we began to suspect something more sinister at work, that some of these companies are using the economy as an excuse to freeze wages for people they don’t want to pay; to conveniently drop some expenses; and maybe even to unload a few trouble makers here and there. While these companies may indeed be laying off workers in order to save money, they might not be doing it to keep their companies from completely going under. They may be getting rid of people just to see if they can still function without them and never have to open those positions again, thereby saving millions of dollars and justifying nearly $20 billion in bonuses as the company sinks. Wait, “saving” isn’t the right word for what they’re trying to do. Adding is it – adding to the bottom line.
That, of course, is a CEO’s job. I asked my best friend, my own personal triple masters degree and double PhD-having, business-owning, entrepreneurial guru and human encyclopedia, if he thought all of these companies were truly in dire straights. He said, and I paraphrase, “This is the problem with how the Republicans think. They believe that American workers will be saved by giving businesses money. But a good CEO doesn’t care about his workers. When I own a business, I’m in it for one reason only: to make money. That’s what a good CEO is supposed to be focused on. If he stops to consider how every financial decision he makes will affect his workers, he’s not cut out to be a CEO. Now no one likes to fire people, and you know when I had to lay off just four people, I was devastated. [Side bar: It’s true; I talked to my friend right before he sent out termination letters. It was almost as depressing as being laid off myself.] But a CEO’s responsibility is to himself and his shareholders. That’s why giving money to corporations won’t trickle down to benefit the workers.”
The CEO has a job to do, and as much as the nice ones would like to have it be so, that job is not to take care of the lower-level workers. I expressed to my mom a wish that there were some sort of federal mandate on just how much money a company had to be losing before layoffs became necessary. Only when a company is doing something illegal does it make every budget, every quarter, every year. Profit loss is part of business. It’s one of the ways you learn what not to do. But when profits are down one, two, even ten percent? In a multi-billion-dollar company, that’s equal to a number of zeros no one wants to think about, but it’s far from bankruptcy. So it should be far from layoffs too, right?
Well, maybe it would be, but there are these people called shareholders, this thing called free enterprise, and this other thing called greed. Not entrepreneurial spirit. Not I became a shareholder to grow my money, so yes, I want a profit, but I understand that the stock market is about long-term gains, and so I don’t worry too much when a company has a bad quarter or even four of them. Not I deserve a huge check with bonuses because everything about this company has been my idea and I take responsibility whether it succeeds or fails. Not I ain’t mad at cha – get yours because you worked hard and the boss should make way more than everybody else because being a CEO takes the kind of balls that not everyone has. Not that. Just greed. The former allows you to see a larger picture, to ride out the storm, and to see the success of those you were privileged to be able to hire as measurements of your success. The latter leads you to spend federal bailout money on a new corporate jet or on your usual seven-figure bonus instead of on small business owners who are laying off workers because you won’t extend a line of credit for payroll. The former considers and mandates layoffs only as a last resort, after reevaluating their own business model to ensure survival. The latter jumps on to the layoff bandwagon for convenience, then overworks and underpays those who remain.
I told my best friend that most of the people making the decision to layoff thousands of their employees have probably never even seen them. He agreed; they were probably just a number, as I’m sure I was. The CEO who signed off on my pink slip had seen me twice in the 14 months I was there under his ownership. He knew me by my job title (which was incorrectly stated in my severance letter), my age (you can’t make it look like age discrimination), and my salary. Still, I may not have been laid off because of greed. I believe the corporate executives of my former employer were ambitious, perhaps overly so considering just how good the financial prospects looked when they purchased the company. If something looks too good to be true, it’s probably about to come to an end. They made budgets based on several years of our salespeople kicking the competition’s butt, and they expected to keep that pace. Then the economy fell apart, and those trying to keep their businesses afloat – and keep their employees – cut their advertising budget first. Since those in broadcasting don’t spend too much money to advertise themselves, they had to make some cuts in other places. I truly believe they had done all that they could do.
So no, greed doesn’t come to mind in my own case. But that sinister question remains …
Do all these companies really need to make that many people live their lives laid off?
© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.