Thursday, July 21, 2011

Job Losses are a Bummer, Even When It Isn't My Job

Our agency is facing a major budget crunch. While my position is safe, those of nearly a quarter of our staff are at risk. Lay-off notices go out in mid-August.

Since I'm president of our white-collar union, I'm the one getting the panicked phone calls, the tears, the concerns of those staff members worried about their jobs and the concerns of other staff members who will have to pick up the slack--not an easy thing when we're all working at maximum capacity as it is.

So right now we are negotiating with management to see if we can cut back the number of affected employees by giving up certain financial rights we union members gained by tough bargaining two years ago. The truth is, I and most of my fellow workers WILL give up time and money to keep as many people employed here as possible.

But we differ on what we think it is reasonable to give up. Our time (and as a result a reduction in pay)? A wage freeze? A percentage or two of our pension payments? A lesser contribution toward health care? All of the above?

Some of us have budgets so tight now that any reduction in pay is going to hurt.

I'm hearing from folks who are the only employed member of their household; from people with serious chronic illnesses who are dependent upon our health benefits (which will be paid for four months after the lay-off notices, but after that, only the very expensive COBRA benefits will be available); from folks concerned about losing their homes or their vehicles.

In short, I'm learning much more than I ever wanted to know about the personal financial circumstances of the people I work with. Hardly any of these people have spent their money foolishly. But a number of them truly are only a paycheck away from disaster. This is especially true for the single parents among us.

Can you tell that I hate this?


Anonymous said...

I started looking over my past posts from 2009 and 2010. You used to pooh-pooh me when I said gas was going to be $4 a gallon or I advised people to buy gold coins. Gold is $1600 an ounce now and it's not stopping to go up. And gas really is $4 a gallon.

All of us are going to be affected. No one is 'safe' anymore.

I will give everyone a solid piece of wisdom and advice:

"It is better to make a little money than no money at all"

You can trust me on that.

Prioritize. Figure out what is really a necessity and let the rest fall away. Tough, brutal choices out there. I only wish everyone the best. My prayers are with all.

Read my post today. New York State can no longer pay their unemployment benefits and the federal government can not loan them any more money.

Just a matter of time.

Florence said...

Oh Grace, what a difficult situation!! I don't have any answers but you do have my sympathy. Keep us posted as you work through the situation.

Rita said...

Like you I watch this happening all over and it makes me sick. People should at least be able to have what they need after working hard at jobs for a long time. We need insurance, enough money for taxes, utilities, shelter and food. Seems there has to be a way that those who have given their best can at least have these things. We also gave so we could keep people working. What happened over time? We have almost no benefits from our union now. One cannot do the job of 3 for long so gradually many leave to keep their sanity and health. We need to pray as a country that God will heal our land and help those who are doing without or will be.

Anonymous said...

"Tough bargaining".

Translation: The union told management they better give us X, Y & Z or we'll strike/smear you/screw up the work/get you fired ('cause you're management and have no union) - take your pick.

So what else could management do but give in??

Now when there's no money to make the prizes gained through threats you're surprised why?

BTW, to 'bargain' is give and take. You obviously took from the organization, what did you give [up] as part of this "tough bargaining"?

Anonymous said...


What a difficult position for you and for those families.

@Morrison: Gas is not $4/gallon where we are (more like $3.50). Eventually the gold coin bubble is going to burst. We don't know when, but it will burst. Bubbles go up, then they crash. It's still going up. That doesn't mean it isn't going to crash. Same thing with the housing market back when, same thing with tech stocks back when. Or railroad stocks at the turn of a couple of centuries ago.

Sharon said...

What a mess everything is. My heart goes out to all those struggling. It is a wake up call for me...I will save more diligently now.

Anonymous said...

Finally. government and related agencies are forced to be more efficient. Yes. it's painful, but there are no guarantees of employment for life. Your union, whose existence and position in the workplace has been subsidized by management, cannot "protect" jobs that need to disappear.

While I sympathize with the folks being laid off, they should have been prepared to deal with changes and should not have been living paycheck to paycheck. The union would have helped these people more if it had provided financial education as one of the benefits.

I hope yours is not an agency where the union files a grievance on every perceived slight in the employer-employee relationship. If it is, your union is soaking up financial resources that should be spent elsewhere.

Maybe if you and your union focused on making the remaining staff more productive, you could help the agency that employs all of you to do its job and remain relevant.

Grace. said...

Is it a coincidence that the anti-union screeds come from anonymous posters? I never require that my readers (or my friends) be of my same political pursuasion (just ask Morrison!). Still, I find it interesting that both of the sharpest retorts come from people who won't leave even a blog name behind.

To be clear, ours is not an agency that is 'inefficient.' We already underserve a very needy constituency, including folks who are getting the runaround from government agencies (we are a non-profit, but NOT a state agency).

Management is not our enemy--the economy is. Both sides are working hard to reach a fair resolution.

That's what is so hard in the non-profit world--we're NOT Kellogg's! We can't just make and sell more cereal to bring in more income!

Living Almost Large said...

I disagree with Morrison about being "affected". I think that people who planned and saved are doing well if not better than before. And there are people out there.

Nothing has really changed from 6 years ago when we moved into our townhouse and now.

Yes we spend a little more on groceries and gas and utilities. But it's not the end of the world. I still drive my 99 corolla, how many cars have other posters gone through in the past 12 years? I don't bother worrying about fuel efficiency I drive a fuel efficient car. The car you own is always the cheapest to own than buying a car for fuel efficiency. $4 gas is not a big deal, why would I buy a car like a ford focus when I have a car that runs great and is minimal maintenance and insurance? For a couple of MPG? You're better off not driving and keeping the gas guzzler. But people don't actually calculate how much a "gas guzzler" actually costs.

I have the same home since 2005, and before that we had a condo we sold and "upgraded" to a bigger condo. I did not buy the SFH I could "reached" to buy but rather what I could afford. So it dipped in price but is now back again and then some. Our mortgage is still reasonable and affordable.

The same shopping list I had, I still use. I still coupon clip, I still look for deals.

Jobs? Well gotta keep that. But I believe you ask anyone under 40, and they'll tell you that it's been that way since they got out of college. Certainly for me it's been that way. I knew that the day i graduated that I was in danger of getting laid off. I saved my money and never lived beyond my means. I haven't changed and neither has my DH. That's a big issue. We've never grown into our income. And our income last year was very good.

In 2005 we had $2k retirement, now we have $250k+. We had $0k cash, we have $40k cash, bought a new car, paid for an MBA, had a kid, and cut one income. One could argue that our income increasing was because we were starting out. True but no one said we couldn't live to the max instead of living like the grad students we had been.

I think that people forget that responsibility at any age is the key.

MasterPo said...

Nicole - Gas is running $3.89 to $3.99 for no-name regular here on LI. That's up about $.19 to $.28 since July 4th. MasterPo firmly expects $4.00+ in a week.

Grace - MasterPo won't hide. MasterPo agrees with the annon posters. How awful that government and/or union people have to tighten their belts and do more with less. Oh, the horror of it! :-P

ps- So as the first anon asked: What did you as the union give up during the tough barganining for the 'financial gains' you're proud of? Let MasterPo guess: You initially demanded a 10% raise but "settled" for "just" 6%? A true sacrafice for sure.

Grace. said...

Po--I think you've got some fantasy union in mind. Certainly you know nothing about the one I'm part of. We negotiated a three year contract two years ago. Folks at the bottom of the pay scale got a 3% raise; That wasn't me. I got almost a 1% increase. In my job category, having 20 years of experience will protect me. But there are employees who've been here 22 years who are looking at being laid off. I think it's a tragedy.

LAL--you are so smart to have saved all along. I wish I'd thought of that five children ago.

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to me too the anti-union sentiment. I don't have a blog, I just read lots of them, so sorry for the anonymous tag. :)

Anonymous said...

Grace--so sorry to hear about this. My impression is that, in the public sector, the problem has been overly generous benefits and not outrageous salaries. (The reason, of course, is that politicians can and do over promise, figuring they won't be around to deal with the mess when the time comes. What they want are votes and support from public unions at the polls.) The real problem is that the future has arrived and many people (teachers, civil servants, police, firefighters and so on) who rely on public dollars to pay their wages and benefits are now having to adjust as taxpayers refuse to pay more in the midst of a horrible recession. You seem to be caught in the middle and I have no trouble believing that it is a stressful and unpleasant spot to be in. Best of luck as you work your way through it. I'm a long time reader of your blog and I enjoy your posts.

MasterPo said...

MasterPo doesn't like seeing anyone loose their job.

But what makes it worse when unionized employees loose jobs over non-union people??

Somehow it's always portrayed as a cosmic tragedy of epic proportions when unionize people loose their jobs.

Grace. said...

It's not worse for a union member to lose a job--it's bad for anyone anywhere, especially if they've had the position for a long time. The point of my post was not really about unions, but that in my position as union president, members are coming to me with their financial woes. It's frustratingly difficult to really help them, although we are in negotiations to try to save at least some of the positions.

Donna Freedman said...

Grace: I'm sorry that you're privy to so much pain. Channel it when you're writing blog posts -- it's one way of reminding yourself to write stuff that matters to people.
"Hope for the best, expect the worst and don't be surprised by anything in between" was what I heard when I was a kid. I'm keeping that in mind every time I fire up the slow cooker to simmer yet another batch of pinto beans.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Grace, but your focus on protecting jobs is wrong. The mission of your agency is to serve some segment of the community that is not helped by other agencies or programs. Every employee of your agency should be looking at ways to cut the agency's costs, of which labor is the most expensive, and to provide more and better service to your target population.

Instead of finding ways to provide better service with less overhead, you are trying to preserve jobs. The cost of keeping the jobs is a lower level of service. You and your union are a drag on the agency and your employer is inefficient at carrying out the agency's mission.

If you used the "for profit" model, you would reduce the workforce and streamline every process you could. Everyone remaining would have to find ways to do more with less. And your "customer" would be the beneficiary.

Anonymous said...

Gas in my neighborhood, rural America is $4.10 a gallon. Today. Gold is not a bubble. It is a reality since paper money is worthless. Gold has been around for centuries. Better than wam pum.

Public sector job losses will not get any empathy from anyone right now. The private sector has just spent 3 to 4 years losing jobs. The private sector feels justice now.

As for Living large, I wouldn't believe a single thing that comes out of the woman's mouth. When I first told her that my own husband was out of work for 2.5 years back in 2001, she couldn't believe it. Called me a liar. Or my husband a failure. Now, a 2 to 3 year job search is almost normal. Her holier-than-thou attitude sickened me back than as much as it irritates me now. So what? She feels no pain so, how can others?

Boomgono said...

It makes me sad to see so much arguing in the comments — union vs. non-union, private vs. government, for-profit vs. non-profit, speculating whether people we've never met could have saved more or run their agency better.

None of this addresses the point I think Grace was trying to make: The economy is changing all of our lives. Nobody is immune. We've depended completely on our jobs for our bill payments, mortgages, health insurance, and retirement plans, and no job is dependable anymore. That's hard for anyone to take. I appreciate Grace's compassion for her coworkers. I know many other people have been in the same situation — and many hit this hard truth years ago — but that doesn't make it any easier for the people who are just now having the rug pulled out from under them.

My question is this: Where do we go from here? Our economic system depends heavily on the idea that everyone should and can have a steady job. For example, it's extremely difficult to afford health insurance without a company's group plan. Grace mentioned the difficulty of making COBRA payments. Individual insurance is even more difficult to afford — and, until insurance reform laws kick in in 2014, impossible for many with pre-existing conditions to get. Our world is set up for people with jobs, and for many, jobs just aren't available. How can we change it so either jobs come back, or we can earn our living as independent professionals and get health insurance, credit, mortgages, and everything we need? Where do we go from here?

Anonymous said...

Where do we go from here? We impeach Obama ASAP. You vote straight Republican for the next 20 years, so we can get out of the mess he created in 20 months.

Obama was supposed to straighten out the country with his hope & change song. Anger? You betcha. He took down the private sector, the public sector, the union sector, the for and not-for profit sectors. He has succeeded in pitting one American against the other, poor against rich, the haves against the have nots.

He has divided and conquered. He has destroyed us.

Where do we go from here? Nowhere. We are no longer a free country.

Are we all happy yet?

Janette said...

Wow- what a great response.
Of COURSE! It is ALL Obama's fault.
His impeachment tomorrow would cause millions of jobs to fall out of the sky!
All those jobs would pay over $250,000.

Welcome to FOX pretends!