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Stephanie Salter: Commentary on CA layoffs/cutbacks

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Central-KY-Kid, Jun 10, 2007.

  1. Central-KY-Kid

    Central-KY-Kid Well-Known Member

    Don't know her. But at least she had the gumption to put it in print for the public to see.

    BTW, she writes for a CNHI paper:


    STEPHANIE SALTER: Thanks for your loyalty, now get out

    By Stephanie Salter
    The Tribune-Star

    TERRE HAUTE— Some people say that U.S. society took a wrong turn when we stopped building houses with front porches. I’d add to that the juncture at which the “personnel office” became “human resources” and the five-minute firing — even of longtime employees — became the rule, not the exception.
    Did I say “firing”?
    Oh, sorry. It’s “laying off” or “buying out.” No one gets fired anymore in the land of employment euphemisms except the contestants on Captain Comb-over’s TV show.
    The wholesale cashiering of hundreds or thousands of hard-working human beings is a “contraction.” The closing of the factory where their mammas and granddaddies worked before them is a mere “down-sizing.”
    When corporate push comes to shove, we watch our fellow citizens, our neighbors and relatives — ourselves! — be one-dimensionalized, stripped of dignity and trustworthiness and escorted off the premises like some smelly derelict who’s camped out at the receptionist’s desk and keeps talking about voices in his head.
    I am thinking about all this because many friends of mine had their jobs taken away from them last week in California.
    I refuse to say they “lost” them. That implies carelessness on their part, an active role. No way. My friends were deemed expendable by a corporate entity for which all of them have labored for more than three decades, and they will be paid varying amounts of money to go away.
    Many more “positions” will be “eliminated” before this particular bloodletting is through, but they are union jobs under a contract that spares its members the humiliation of the instant firing.
    For the folks without that protection, this was the deal: For 30, 35 or 38 years, they came into the building at least five days a week (except for vacations) and went out at night. They had keys to their offices and file cabinets, passwords for their voicemail and the collective computer system, and they were encouraged to attend the company Christmas party when such festivities were in the budget.
    Then, these same men and women were summoned to “H.R.” where a script was read and a packet titled “How to Survive a Layoff” was handed to them. Most were then given only a few minutes to collect their briefcase or handbag and get out of the building.
    The next time they come back — to pack up decades of files, notebooks, printouts and awards — they will be wearing stick-on “Visitor” patches and they will be “accompanied” by one of their former colleagues who was not assassinated in the purge.
    My friends who got the boot happen to be journalists. (They still are, they just don’t have journalism jobs anymore.) But the way they were severed from their workplace is echoed by workers in industries all across the land.
    Every day — in companies that make pharmaceuticals, automobiles, compact discs, reinforced steel, tires, paper, travel reservations, textiles, glass, even the beds of old and sick people — somebody in H.R. is reading somebody else a script, handing over a packet and giving the doomed employee five minutes to get the hell out.
    A woman I heard about earlier this week — in “the service industry sector” — discovered she was part of her company’s most recent pool of victims only when she couldn’t sign on to her computer and had to ask someone what was wrong.
    The company bosses had, of course, let her complete a huge project for them before they ordered the tech department to make her persona non grata in their realm of cyberspace.
    A good pal who has worked in H.R. most of her life and has been on both sides of the game — the ax wielder and the axed — answered some questions about the five-minute firing. For obvious reasons her identity will be concealed. I’ll call her “Ginger” for this column.
    Ginger’s one-line summation of the popular practice: “It isn’t worth the ill-will you create.”
    Why, I asked her, when people are fired for purely economic reasons, not because of anything they’ve done wrong, are they suddenly treated like criminals?
    The answer is fear, but fear based on what might happen, not on what’s likely or — heaven forfend — on what the axee deserves.
    “It’s seen as a security issue, especially because of computers,” Ginger said. “Companies are into control, big time, and this is what the lawyers tell them they have to do. The lawyers drive everything — and the H.R. people are the ones who have to carry it out.”
    But, but, I protested, what are the odds that longtime, trusted employees like my newspaper friends are suddenly going to behave out of character and turn into destructive lunatics?
    Ginger said the odds don’t matter anymore than the fired person’s unsullied work record matters.
    “It’s miserable, cruel and inhumane,” she said, “and it can’t help create bad feelings among the people still there. If anything, it creates people who then want to do harm to the company.”
    People have been known to sue, Ginger said, so everyone is viewed as a potential litigant. Once in a great while an angry axee has gone into a computer system and wreaked havoc, so everyone is seen as a potential cyber-terrorist.
    “Computer access is the first thing we have to pull,” she said.
    Of the many people to whom Ginger has had to read the script — “It’s all legalese” — most are stunned but civilized. Probably this is because most people are civilized even when they have gotten canned.
    But not everyone goes quietly.
    “I’ve had people throw their laptop at me,” Ginger said.
    Because I’ve known Ginger for 18 years, I know she suffers when she has to read somebody the script and hand over the packet. I’ve seen her cry and lose sleep and her appetite.
    “I hate it,” she said, “but every time I have to do it, I try to treat the person the way I would want to be treated, as if it were happening to me. I try to be compassionate. As much dignity and respect as I can give them — within the parameters given to me by corporate — I do.”
    Not all Ginger’s cohorts share her willingness to plug into other folks’ pain.
    “Some H.R. people just become machines,” she said. “They just process people out. As I said, it’s inhumane.”
    Yes it is. And, increasingly, it’s the American way.
    Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.
  2. spaceman

    spaceman Active Member

  3. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    w-a-i-t a minute.. I know this paper.

    I think it is THE Tribune-Star... ;)

    (nice piece on a lousy topic)
  4. Riddick

    Riddick Active Member

    now that's a great read.
  5. budcrew08

    budcrew08 Active Member

    Can the mods sticky this? It's an important issue in our business.
  6. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    Not for long. ::) ::)
  7. chazp

    chazp Active Member

    Great work, super column. Damn, I hope starman is wrong about her. She deserves credit for having the guts to write this.
  8. She used to work at one the San Francisco papers, can't remember which one.

    She's good people.
  9. SoCalScribe

    SoCalScribe Member

    I liked this column. Whenever I see a coworker get fired, it's kind of a depressing situation because they really do try to rush them out. They usually fire them early in the morning before most people are there, then they try to hurry them out of the building so no one can see them go and they can't stop to talk to anyone.

    I've never understood why compassion is so difficult for managers to display in such situations.
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