I finally received my layoff letter today. I knew it was coming, but it is still deflating to view one’s fate in black and white. We all know that our days on this earth are numbered, but none of us expects to know the date of our demise in advance.
It’s kind of like a Dear John letter, or whatever the modern equivalent of breakup protocol might be. A goodbye text maybe? A public kissoff in the form of a tweet? Instead of “it’s not you, it’s me,” you get “you are aware of our current fiscal challenges amidst the national economic downturn.” Instead of “we’ll both be happier” and “it’s better this way,” you get “you may apply for state unemployment” and “we appreciate all your hard work during your tenure with the company.” And instead of “I’ll never forget you,” you get “we sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
I have 5½ weeks to go until I pack up my footrest, my tea mug and my peg game from Cracker Barrel and sign off my company email account for the last time. At least I will receive a couple more paychecks before I join the ranks of this country’s great cadre of unemployed workers.
Many of my employees were not so lucky. I have already lost half my staff; their last day was Friday. Most of us went out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant Friday night, both those who were leaving us and those who had high enough seniority numbers to stay. Not everyone showed up, however. A few were out of town and at least one was ill. The poor guy couldn’t make it through his last day of work. As for me, when I reach that day at the end of September, I just pray that I can make it out the door without crying.
Sure, three years is rather an investment in a company, one that arguably should preclude elimination of one’s job and summary expulsion. And yet, I have no right to complain about a thing. My employee who had to leave in the middle of the day on Friday had been with the company twelve years. And, incredibly, another of my people received a layoff notice after 22 years of faithful employment. It seems a ridiculous understatement to say that there is no longer such thing as job security.
I’ve been reading Jonathan Fenby’s sociopolitical work France on the Brink, in which he discusses the large number of immigrants from Algeria and Morocco who crossed the Mediterranean to work for good wages in France’s heavy industry half a century ago. Those jobs, once plentiful, are now gone, although the immigrants and two generations of their descendants are still there. Many live in deplorable conditions in high-rise, high-crime mass housing projects. As in the United States, Europe has moved from an agricultural economy, to an industrial economy, to the modern information economy. Lack of updated skills, insufficient education and cultural and language barriers is a recipe for unemployment. But I learned an interesting French term from Fenby that, these days, seems to apply equally to Toulouse and California: Le dégraissage. Literally, this word means “defatting,” but it is the modern term for “downsizing” or just plain “layoffs.”
My employer has defatted, and some of that fat is me.
There were at least two dozen of us at the Mexican restaurant, and we occupied two long tables. At my table, we dipped our chips into the ubiquitous salsa and guacamole while we perused the menus. As the burritos and enchiladas arrived, we witnessed a steady stream of margaritas being delivered to the other table. An hour later, I could not help but notice the presence of extreme merriment over there, displayed in raucous laughter fueled by many bottles of beer and shots of tequila.
It had been a difficult day, during which I was required to collect photo ID bages and desk keys from employees who had been laid off. We talked some about unemployment checks and job prospects and going back to school and becoming househusbands or stay-at-home moms. But mostly we tried to pretend that it was just like any other workday, with customers to be served and paperwork to be completed.
My last employee left a few minutes after five, packing a box with her laptop, her water bottle and the framed photos of her kids that had sat on her desk, just below their artwork that had decorated her cubicle walls for the past seven years.
With a knot in my stomach, I expressed my appreciation for her amazing contributions to the success of our operation. I peered through the blinds of my office, watching her load her box into the trunk of her car before she pulled out of the parking lot and drove away.