Sunday, April 18, 2010

Recessional Confessional

So I found out Friday via a note left in the store after hours, that effective with the next paycheck, every employee's pay is being reduced by 15%. I know I should be grateful to have a job-----I am. And the job I have is not horribly demanding beyond dealing with incredibly stupid people day in and day out. But, let me divulge. For one, that takes me down to making a whopping 19k, what I made nearly 10 years ago, when I was first hired with zero experience. Ignore the fact that even making 15% more than that is laughable, but luckily I came from a poor family.

I work for a medium-size company that makes a luxury item: framed pictures. People come in the store with their artwork, I help them decide how they'd like to frame it, then I order materials from the warehouse and I build the product in the store. It's not rocket science, but it is a learned skill, one that requires math, attention to detail, and a limitless ability to tolerate idiocy.

I've wasted nearly 10 years of my life with this company, and from what I've seen the problem is that it is run by people who could not care less about the business or the quality of the product (beyond making sure people want to pay for it), they just want to make the most money with the least amount of effort possible. The few times that upper management is in the store and forced to work with a customer, it's usually a catastrophe. The same people who scold us on how to best eek every penny out of every person that walks through the door (not my philosophy; I give people what they want, not try to sell them what they don't need) turn into rude newbies who can't be bothered to take the time to do the order correctly. The priority is on using the cheapest products, and cheapest labor, and then taking the highest markup you can.

And the markup in the business is insane. The same day I found out about this pay cut, a man came in to place an order of acrylic on an oversize print. When I told him the price, he scoffed and informed me that he worked for a plastics company that makes acrylic, and it was only about 1/50 of the price I quoted him. I smiled and told him that was really good to know considering the hit my paycheck just took.

I know that a lot of people have lost their jobs, and I know that a lot of people have taken paycuts. And I feel for them; but you cut the pay of people making 6 figures or at least comfortably above 50, not flirting with the fucking poverty line. What they're paying us is low, for the industry and for others----there is not a single manager making more than 30k, and a lot of people are even below 20k. It sucks to work with a customer for more than an hour on an order that totals hundreds of dollars, fill in labor charges totalling $100 or more, knowing that for that hour you didn't even make $10. And a lot of people aren't even that lucky.

Oh, and did I mention that we don't get commission, or bonuses, and that even though my reviews have always been glowing, I haven't had a raise in 2 years? Our health benefits are so worthless that most people don't even use them, and the company's attitude towards cohesiveness can be summed up in the sentence In more than 20 years of business there has never been a company party (holiday or otherwise), period, ever.

I'm really grateful for the federal government checking up on businesses, because ours has been audited several times in the past ten years and each time, it was found out that they were fucking the employees. I was constantly bullied for years that managers who are salaried (even salaried at 23k) were expected to work overtime and not be paid (this is not true; you're only exempt from overtime pay when you make real money, no employees of this company come anywhere near it), I skirted that issue by refusing to work overtime. Years later, we were told that now we would get overtime, but it was actually half-time, so when you got to overtime hours, you would actually get paid half the amount you normally would. That totally makes sense, right? Would you believe it, next audit revealed they totally made that up, and had to start paying people real overtime, isn't that crazy! No one ever got any back pay, though.

But this is the kicker. Apparently, the company as a whole is doing very badly. I'm sure that's true; it's a luxury industry and the economy is way down and people have no jobs. But our store, on the other hand, has been doing just fine (I know, I've been there all these years). Sales are good; they're not cracktastically shooting skyward, but they've been positive and not negative. The staff of the store has consistently shrank, going from 3 full time and 2 part time people when I was hired 8 years ago to now just 2 full time and one part time person. More money, less people, somehow still equals less money?

So now all of us little people are getting our already little paychecks cut. Meanwhile, the bosses live in spectacular half-million dollar houses in the nicer gated areas of the city. One guy has been on vacation the last 3 weeks out of 5. I'm sure they're really taking one for the team, sacrificing a ton of their 6-figure paycheck to "keep the company afloat."

So this is why I have a problem with rich people, and the idea that capitalism fixes everything. I am a hard-working person that can't find a new job, and is being seriously taken advantage of by my current employer. I'm know, be grateful for my job: my job where I make less money than teen grads stocking food at grocery stores, yet I have a learned skill that took me years to perfect and people pay hundreds of dollars for. I am grateful---but I am also pissed. I firmly believe that employers are using the recession as an excuse to further fuck their employees as much as they can.

I am a valuable employee: a dependable woman with the capacity to swallow massive amounts of bullshit; plunk me down in a store and I will make money for you and keep problems to a minimum. I've never asked for much; I don't complain (till now I've kept my grievances off the web); my personal life is boring and drama-free; I am smart and have always been able to handle any wack-ass situation that has happened. I know that I deserve better pay. There is no one that can tell me that I don't. I do all the work, see all the money come in, and then get my tiny little pittance. I know what is going on.

I left the worst part for last: I had it really good here. I was one of the higher-paid managers. Most people in the company make less than me, meaning they're down in the teens now, and a lot of them have children. Just think about that for a second: funny, smart, good people, now trying to raise a family on 15k a year. Last night, we were watching TV and it was said that a family of four making 50k pay no income taxes. I don't know if this is true, but honestly it doesn't bother me----I know how hard it is to live with 2 people with less than 50k, so I can imagine how hard it is with kids. Give them the tax break. I feel most for those people who are now very close to the poverty line, if not below it. It was really sad to log onto my facebook and see all the other employees lamenting the pay cut----everyone's status update involved depressing things and alcohol.

So one employee whose store is being closed was told sorry, no more work for you-----but keep checking back, because we're sure people will quit when they see how much of a loss they're taking. Nice! Way to show concern.

Just so we're clear here, all the upper management/owners of the company have lavish houses that cost more than I'll make in a lifetime, cars that cost more than my house (literally), go to places I will probably never see, and have lots of little people working for peanuts to make all that possible. Oh, and by the way---the store I'm at has only 2 full time employees and one part time, and we all make less than 25k each; we bring in appx. $300,000 annually.


  1. That is horrible! I have tried to convince some of the idiots out there that the current situation we are facing has nothing to do with companies not making money, it has every thing to do with greedy bastards trying to take their loses at the lowest levels of the company. What good is a job that doesn't give you enough money to survive on?

    Another example of this is the company I work for. We have the largest market share of the industrial truck industry, even though the industry has shrunk all around. So even though the industry has shrunk, we have seen a gain in overall control of the industry.

    About 2 1/2 years ago, they told us all that we were going on a pay freeze. 3 months later, they started cutting pay. 3%, 3%, 5%, 10%; all over another 3 month time span. Hell, one guy makes less than when he started. How does that happen?

    Then came the benefits cuts. Medical insurance prices went up, benefits went down. But we were all glad to have a job, like you said. We were told things would get better for those who stuck around. That was until the layoffs came. Our shop went from having 58 full time employees to 30. And then another paycut.

    This week we all got a letter in our box that said "The industry is picking up and our factory is back to working 3 shifts, 7 days a week, but don't expect to see a raise anytime soon." So, in a skilled job that didn't pay awesomely but was pretty ok turned into a job that makes me watch the clock until my 8 hours is up. My moral is the lowest it has ever been.

    By the way, the owner of the company is one of the richest people in the country. He owns one of the largest privately-owned companies in the country. I have seen 3 of his 7 houses. He has an awfully nice yacht in San Diego... and Boston... and Miami... and Greece. The only reason I haven't seen the other 4 of his houses is because they are on another continent. The lower management got fucked just like the rest of us. Middle and upper management? See if you can find them in their palatial compounds.

    I do not deride anyone for making money. If you can, go ahead. But don't screw over the people who got you in the position you are in just so you can keep your own salary in the top 1% of the world.

  2. I'm sorry Will, that sucks :( Yes, I agree---greed is what causes 90% of these problems.

    At my job, I am the manager, but I have very few things I actually have control of. One example of one small area where I have a teensy bit of power is that I make the schedule---and if I wanted to, I could totally screw over my coworkers and make them work the shitty shifts, and give myself the easy schedule. My boss wouldn't care, and other managers do it all the time. But I don't, because I wouldn't want to be fucked over, and I believe in a team work ethic, and I get weird sickly bad feelings when I fuck people over. Why can't other people feel the same way?