Hump Day Jobs Report: Riffed

by , posted on Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 at 6:27 am

I know this woman – let’s call her Sue, since both she and her company shall remain nameless, you know, to protect the innocent, and by innocent I mean Sue and definitely not her company – who works for a large corporation which provides a service that is actually doing well right now. Sue says that, as the corporation is well aware and loves to tout, their service is actually in demand in a down economy, so actual sales are up and business is booming. But this is not stopping them from maximizing profits at workers expenses. Because the down economy is providing them with the opportunity to do so, or as the managers put it: “because we can.”

I’ve been hearing from Sue for some time about how this is affecting her. First she was moved to a newly created job that was actually a “new” position in that it was a combination of two other positions that had been “eliminated,” and then her former position was “eliminated.” Lots of layoffs at the company, despite the fact that sales are up, they are trimming and eliminating all the positions they can.

I asked her how they can get away with that, isn’t there enough more work to process in light of the increased sales, that employees are overworked?

If I remember this conversation correctly this is where Sue rolled her eyes and asked me if I did not catch the part where she is now doing two jobs. And then she predicted that she would also be doing her old job in pretty short order.

“The one that was eliminated you mean?” I said, “But how can they possibly expect anyone to do three people’s jobs?”

“Because they can,” she said. “Those of us left are just fearful and frantically working to do everything we can, and still we all know we are doing fifty percent of each of our two jobs in the most half-assed way, but what are we supposed to do? There are no jobs out there.”

Then yesterday I was talking to Sue and she was telling me an anecdote about her work day that actually turned out to be kind of funny and got to this part where she was saying “So Rebecca walked in – she was riffed last month but she’s back…”

And I interrupted her to ask her “What is riffed?”

She said “Oh, it means reduction in force – RIF – fired.”

“So your company is rehiring?” I asked.

“No, no, no,” Sue said. “Not rehiring, bringing back some of the riffed as contractors or temps, that way they cut costs since they don’t have to pay bennies and of course it’s at a somewhat reduced pay rate, but more than they’d be getting on unemployment or otherwise why would they come back? And of course it saves the company unemployment costs too.”

If I recall correctly I think I used some pretty colorful language to describe my feelings about her employers.

“Well, yeah,” she said. “How do you think I feel? Every time I see one of the riffed come back I think to myself for just a second I will not do that no matter what, then I realize the assholes really can do that to me too – I have kids who eat. So what am I going to do?”

Sue then said she once tried to have an actual conversation with one of her bosses wherein she suggested this is pretty short-sighted practice in the middle of a recession – to continuously put all the people you can out of work “because you can” when you don’t actually have to. She suggested to the manager in question that the outcome is you are laying off a bunch of potential customers and leaving the ones who are left so continuously terrified of what’s going to happen to them next week that they don’t dare spend any dollar they don’t have to.

“They’re not our customers,” she said the manager replied, “because our employees get our products at cost, or if they are high enough up the food chain, for free, so technically speaking we may be picking up paying customers when we do a RIF.”

“But they are somebody’s customers,” Sue said she protested. “And if all big corporations keep doing this stuff, they are going to keep depressing the economy.”

Sue says that suggestion just fell on deaf ears – it’s all about the profits of the day and what the balance sheet looks like to investors.

Then I asked her what percentage of those riffed they bring back as contractors, figuring she would say, oh, something like ten or twenty percent, thinking that most probably they are discovering they over-riffed and overburdened people left behind aren’t getting vital things done. Or maybe, I was thinking, when someone leaves they do have the grace to try to call back former employees, even if for this lesser contractural, without benefits and at lower rates of pay roles.

“Oh,” Sue said, “I’d have to say about fifty percent – maybe a little more, but I think it’s running about 50/50.”

“But they can’t be miscalculating how much reduction in force they can get away with that badly,” I said. “They just can’t. That’s like saying they are firing twice as many people as they can get away with doing without. They have to be doing it on purpose.”

“Well of course they’re doing it on purpose,” she said. “They can.”


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One Response to “Hump Day Jobs Report: Riffed”

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