Friday, June 16, 2006

Get Yourself a Government Job

My friend in California dropped me an e-mail this morning. He told me that he was anticipating a problem--maybe even layoffs--at the hotel in the East Bay area of California where he works. A few years ago he had helped a hotel workers' union establish themselves in the hotel, protecting the workers. Now another company is buying the hotel, and they don't have to pick up the union contract. As a matter of fact, they can fire everyone and start new. Now that sort of news would be something to chew over with your morning muffin, wouldn't it?

By coincidence, last night a high school buddy of mine, Gary, called from out of the blue. I hadn't heard from him in over 35 years. He wanted to know what was going on with me. We caught up in a cursory fashion and when I asked what kind of work he did he told me he had been laid off from his job of 30 years, two weeks short of his 30-year anniversary. So he has no pension, no benefits, just his 401K and severance package. He also told me that about 20 people were laid off, all but a couple in the 50-65 year-old-range. He said that the couple of younger workers who were laid off were to make it look like older workers hadn't been targeted. That sounds paranoid, but just because it sounds paranoid doesn't mean it isn't true.

A few months ago a lady at my work told me her husband had been laid off from a local grocery store chain where he had worked for 29 years, most of those years as a produce manager. The lady was recovering from cancer and when they fired him his benefits ended, so they were left with thousands of dollars worth of medical bills. She also said the layoff that caught her husband was strictly of higher wage earners in that 50-65 year age group. The fired workers took the store chain to court for age discrimination, but what will the courts do? Big deal. They won't buy you back your life.

I don't claim these stories are unique. It happens every day in this country. As rotten as it is, you just can't go into any job or occupation with any kind of real assurance you'll still be there by retirement time, and if you are, that the package they had promised you will materialize.

My advice is, get a government job. At least that's what my mother used to tell me, because she retired from the government. I took her advice, although in an oblique fashion. After being laid off from some dinky job I had in the early '70s I took an opportunity to interview with the school district and got the job that I'm still doing 30 years later. I'm glad I got the job, but I would have taken any job at that point, and maybe not have fared as well. I have every confidence I'll get my retirement (which is administered by the state), and my pension package because every other person in the past 30 years I've worked with who qualified has gotten it. That includes my wife, who is semi-retired from the school district.

I wonder, though, how do the guys who fashion these layoffs, who put people out of work, cut families off medical insurance, ruin a community, live with themselves? Isn't there a time when they wake up in the morning and look in the mirror at their face and the reflected face says to them, "You are a cold-blooded, scum-sucking bastard." Probably not, because people who have gotten themselves the sort of job that lends itself to having the power of life and death over lesser mortals have usually sold themselves on the idea it's for the greater good of the company. Yeah, the "company," meaning those managers, shareholders, people who are the highest earners, and probably the least productive. The hatchet-man looking into the mirror probably appends the "…scum-sucking bastard" line with, "That means you're doing your job! Keep up the good work!"

It's sad to say, but as sorry as I feel for the people whose stories I've told, it's life in the working world. My own brother has had to retrain several times in his commercial art career, learning new technology, and watching the companies he has worked for fail because they couldn't keep up with technology. He's managed to bounce back so far, but who knows how close he is to living in a cardboard box somewhere under a viaduct?

All of these stories are why I cling to my job like a drowning man clings to a tree branch on the river's edge. You just pray the branch will still be there long enough to provide you with a way to get out of the rushing water.

Whenever these executive types get behind a podium and say they did it for the good of the company I just about heave. They do it for their own good. And they've apparently learned to live with themselves, too. They wouldn't want to be my friend in California, or my high school buddy, Gary, or the produce manager, or me. They couldn't imagine themselves being my friends or me because that would make their callous impact on some working stiff's life real. It's better just to look at everything as bottom line and not worry about whether real live people are being buried alive by the shit shoveled over them.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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