A Thanksgiving Layoff

No need to be coy this time and bury the lead. The subject line gives it all away.

A friend I left behind at the shithole company where I used to work got laid off on November 24, 2010 – also known as The Day Before Thanksgiving.

Seems like something ripped right out of the pages of A Christmas Carol, doesn’t it? That’s the risk you run when you work for Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge at Acme Widgets Corporation.

As frequently happens, however, the story doesn’t quite end there. Oh no, not by a long shot. The company always finds a way to fuck with you further and this case is no exception.

A brief recap on the place I used to work. I call the place the Shithole and my job title was “whore.”

Two of us were hired almost six years ago. Me and my friend who I will call Montgomery. We were hired in the same week.

Due to the amazing employee turnover rate, it wasn’t long until we were both the “old timers,” the longest serving employees at the company. In fact, earlier this year, we were both recognized for five years of service with an offer we couldn’t refuse.

Whenever the office threw parties (for lame birthday events or the rare employee recognition) the boss would get all soft and emotional and talk about how we were a “family.” All of us employees, of course, took extreme umbrage at such a sentiment. We took it as a severe insult. It was just too incongruous with the way we were treated which made it a totally empty word.

Montgomery was a good worker. He was the best salesperson and had a natural rapport with customers. They’d frequently stop by and ask for him by name. Like the rest of us he was forced to wear many hats. He could work phones, front office, the sales floor, and had a lot of institutional knowledge that was unknown to the rest of us. His primary duties for the last few years, though, were shipping, receiving and inventory.

I thought it was pretty amazing to watch him work. He had a routine for everything. He ran the shipping department like a well-oiled machine. Minor details like how he turned the tape around so it wouldn’t stick to itself made it clear that he put a lot of thought into what he did.

Recently, though, he had fallen out of favor with the higher-ups. We all hated the way we were treated, but he was one of the few that would talk back about it. (In my case I went passive-aggressive and got revenge in other ways, and I also channeled those feelings into my blog lest I explode.) He’d often end up in the boss’s office for 2-3 hour meetings where he said the things that the rest of us only fantasized about.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, when he ended up #1 on management’s hit list.

The entire operation, not counting the owners, was four employees and an office manager (who was not one of us). Near the end several of us began to suspect that a psychological war was being waged against us to induce us to quit. At times I was convinced it was true, and other times I felt I was just being paranoid. (The entire time I was constantly looking for work, though.) In Montgomery’s case I guess it turned out to be true.

When Montgomery was laid off, they gave him a “rehire” date so he could collect unemployment for a month. That was actually a nice gesture. If it sounds too good to be true, though, then what gives? Turns out they want him “on call” for production work as needed. If they ever call him and he can’t come in, that will end his unemployment. In other words, even after being let go, he’s still under their control and at their beck and call. As always, only the needs of the company matter. Fuck the “family” members.

What has happened since I left is that Montgomery was laid off. They cut hours for the other two employees. And they gave more hours to the office manager. And they still call in Montgomery to meet their needs. They’ve basically turned him into a super-part-time employee.

Behind all of this, of course, is the typical small business squealing about how the company “makes no money.” I’ve heard this shit for 10 years and the previous two companies where I worked. Two companies that are remarkably similar.

Yes, it’s true that the company is having a down year. As their IT guy I crunched the numbers and made a graph. (Yes, I have access to the big picture. That’s a side effect of writing their software.) To protect their proprietary information, I left the scale blank.

Shithole Revenue by Year

Data only goes back to 2004 when I began to get involved. The left column, in light blue, represents the historical revenue of the primary company. As you can see, 2010 is a downer year, but it is most decidedly not the worst year they’ve ever had. I know for a fact that these numbers represent profitability for the company. That means the numbers in light blue cover expenses, rent, cost of doing business, employee compensation (wages), etc. and leave income left over for the owners.

The right column, in dark blue, represents additional income from a side business they added in 2009. As you can see, that changes things a bit. Now 2010 is almost equal to the 2nd best years they’ve ever had. Even now. Even in this recession. Even as they are cutting hours and laying off people.

I believe that the reality is even more compelling. This graph only shows “revenue.” Not profit. You have to remember that the side business did not require any additional expenses. They used their existing infrastructure. They run it out of the same building so there is no increase in rent. There was absolutely no increase in compensation, either. The existing employees simply had to eat the additional workload and with no increase in pay. And, lastly, the side business is mostly “service” and has low costs and very low operating expenses.

In other words, the main business, which remaining profitable, is already providing everything the side business needs, which means the side business has a very high margin.

If I could somehow adjust the graph to show profit then I personally believe you’d see a remarkable jump in 2009 and and an even bigger one in 2010. (There is also a third service business that was layered on top of employees in 2010 which I didn’t bother to include in 2010. The 2nd revenue bar should actually be a bit higher.)

So when they call meetings to squeal about how they are personally losing money, I know they are lying to my face. I know better.

This is the thing that gets me. They don’t want to work. They find visiting their own business distasteful and anytime they stop by they can’t wait to leave. They find the office a drag, I guess, and they’re exactly right. So they need employees to make it happen for them. And they squeeze the shit out of things while lying about their profit so they make all the money while treating employees like shit and laying them off. On the day before Thanksgiving.

What is a company? In my experience, it is a place were an owner does 10% of the work and gets 90% of the money. Meanwhile those that do 90% of the work are treated like shit while getting 10% of what the company makes. There is no profit sharing so no incentive to care, beyond losing your job, about the success of the company. What kind of incentive is “my boss makes 30 times my salary” vs. “my boss makes 25 times my salary” while being a lazy ass and treating me like shit? And, “No matter how hard I work, I’ll make exactly the same.” Yeah, I wake up every day and get energized by thoughts like those. Not! And we wonder why so many of the employees we interact with during our daily lives could seemingly not care less.

What awesome people who run the place I used to work. I call this whole sort of phenomenon “gold nugget economics.” That’s why I proudly display my family’s coat of arms of Gristle.

So yeah, I feel for my friend. He’s unemployed and yet still under the company’s thumb. I can’t wait to see what they pull next. ‘Tis the season – ho ho ho!

7 responses

  1. UPDATE:

    This just in. Tonight I received an email from Montgomery. He’s been told that as of this Friday he’ll no longer be “on the books” as an hourly employee. From now on any work he performs will be as a contractor, and he has been reminded that he has to accept all work offered or his unemployment will be canceled.

    I’m extremely curious to see how they work out what his hourly rate will be.

    What a fucking joke.


  2. I often complain that no matter how hard I work my paycheck remains the same, but I do try to see the big picture. 8:30 – 5:00 Mon-Fri isn’t a bad gig and I have health benefits and a 401k. Plus, my employer actually does care about his employees. He’s proved it over and over. I couldn’t imagine working where you did in that atmosphere. It sounds like indentured servitude. That sucks for your friend. I hope he can find a “real” job soon.


    1. It all flows from the top. I agree that my old boss is not nice. To him his employees are just pawns on a chessboard. They are to be and as necessary, and sacrificed when it is beneficial to him, and only him.

      My sincere hope is that my friend makes a clean break from the old boss ASAP.


  3. Everybody’s a bastard these days. I honestly think the odd person/ co / whatever now and then before might be decent but with the crap economy, it’s like the already-assholes just grew bionic sphincter powers.


    1. Bionic sphincter powers! ❤

      I think good is good and bad is bad, and never shall the two meet. And that the bad way outnumbers the good.

      I've got a good one now, but he still drives me nuts. (He's a spaz. More on that later.) And, economically, he doesn't treat me any different than my last boss. But that can still be win simply because he's a nicer person.


  4. Usually, I can laugh out loud at most of what you write — or at least it makes me think.. but this just bummed me out. The sad truth is, it’s happening to so many people!


    1. Yeah, I don’t always try to be funny. I like to think I can be thought-provoking at times. At least in my fantasies! 🙂

      Here’s a snippet from Roger and Me one of my favorite movies of all-time:

      “Devastating wasn’t the half of it. Maybe I got this wrong… but I thought companies lay off people when they hit hard times. GM was the richest company in the world… and it was closing factories when it was making profits in the billions.”

      The profit from side business #2 is more than what the fucker was paying me to work full-time for an entire year. That’s right. He’s making my yearly salary every single month. And how does he respond? He lays off an employee and cuts hours, putting even more work on an already overworked staff.

      Like Bud Fox asked in the movie Wall Street: “When does it all end, huh? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?”

      Sadly, we all know how that question gets answered:

      “It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply, uh, transferred from one perception to another. Like magic.”


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