by Jan Baughman
"Xmas: 'Tis the season (for year-end financials and layoffs)."
(Swans - January 3, 2005) In our final Swans' rendition of the year in which we published our various perspectives on 2004, I mulled over the faux reality in which we are living:
"Concerned about your dead-end job and your retirement benefits that we're spending? No worries, the economy is strong and there are still plenty of good quality jobs that have yet to be outsourced. Just keep your noses to the grindstone and trust that the powers that be will take care of you and will invest your Social Security funds appropriately.
My companion, Gilles d'Aymery, blipped about the spirit of the holidays:
"PEOPLE FIRST: The Colgate Company has announced that it is cutting its work force by 4,400 people. Its stock immediately shot up on Wall Street... Did I say people first? Must be the spirit of the 'holidays'..."
With these and 18 other sobering perspectives successfully published, on Monday, December 13, I returned to my day job. I had not attended the company holiday party that weekend for obvious reasons, and arrived that morning to receive my "Letterman's Jacket" which had been handed out to those who had completed 5 years with the company during 2004. Heavy green wool, leather sleeves, my name and year of hire embroidered -- must have cost a fortune... Congratulations and a handshake, oh -- and there's a mandatory all-employee meeting at 1:00 p.m. In the grand finale to a year that only Gilles could do justice to in writing, reality reared its ugly head and I and 159 of my colleagues (and probably 100,000 other Americans in December) were dispensed of so that the year-end financials would be favorable and the company can hopefully survive another year.
As a friend so cogently responded to my news, "And a happy fucking holiday to you too, pal."
I was asked to stay on for 3 months to help "transition" my research to another company and shut down our local operations. Yes, I agreed to stay and dig my grave! I am one of the lucky few who is not a paycheck away from bankruptcy, and we are not up to our ears, not even our toes, in debt (and here for all you French haters out there, I owe a huge debt...of gratitude to this French man who got me and kept me out of it -- call it Frog Frugality if you will, but this Frog does understand the difference between greed and human needs...). Anyway, I'll get a bit of severance pay, and jobs like mine have replaced the dot.bomb sector in the former Silicon Valley. But we are six months away from having no health insurance in this family. Come, sing with me: "Forty-five-million-and-two bottles of beer on the wall, forty-five-million-and-two bottles of beer..."
Having up till now escaped eight times from being a RIF victim (to those not in the know, the phrase "laid off" is passé -- one is "RIFed," for "Reduction in Force."), my nine lives are up, and I'm still trying to process it. The main reaction at work was "they've torn apart our family," many of us having worked together for nearly 6 years, which is 42 years in dog and modern-day employment time. It's like your parents deciding to put you up for adoption because you've become a financial drain on them! The fact is, I very much liked my company, worked with some very talented individuals and we accomplished some amazing feats. The other fact is, I focused on the cancer research and tried to turn away from the bottom line: profitability.
Like many who have been disheartened by the reality of the times, I hope to have some breathing space to work more on Swans as it continues to grow and consider the next step to take. Maybe we'll receive that million dollar grant that was in Swans' Infamous Predictions for this year! But until that happens, my 2005 resolution? Keep a sense of humor and find a meaningful day job.