My Employer Doesn’t Owe Me Anything. Or Do They?

April, 2012. The things from my office, all packed up and ready to go.

April, 2012. The things from my office, all packed up and ready to go.

March 17, 365 Days of Writing

Prompt: Pick a contentious issue about which you care deeply. Write a post defending the opposite position, and then reflect on what it was like to do that.

First, let me say that I skipped yesterday’s prompt because it involved making a 5-minute presentation to school kids. Let me be the first to say that I am in no position to “school” anyone else’s kids.  Parents are touchy, and don’t like when other parents chime in with their advice, so I left that one alone. Plus, I simply didn’t have the time.

Tonight’s post, however, is closely related to my post about my 180 degree turn. This will be a shorter post, since I need to be in bed and get some rest, but hopefully I will have something to say that someone will find worthwhile.

I have thought of this issue since around 1995, in a Philosophy class, when we watched the movie Roger and Me.  If you haven’t seen it, or have forgotten what it was, it is a Michael Moore documentary about the demise of the automotive industry in Flint, MI. Roger  Smith was the CEO who closed auto plants and put many people out of work, virtually killing the economy in that city. Many of my classmates thought that GM was out of their minds to put so many out of work, arguing that the company had an obligation to the community, no less, the individuals whom they were displacing. The company simply owed them more than a pink slip and a long, unpaid vacation. These people worked hard for the money that GM raked in, and they were discarded as if they never mattered. One woman in the film (a former employee) was shown raising and slaughtering rabbits to feed her family. It was one of the most real moments of the film, demonstrating the harsh reality of unemployment in a now-dead-end town, and the things that are sometimes necessary to survive. These people didn’t deserve this fate, dealt by a cold, unfeeling corporation only concerned about its bottom dolllar.

So, here, it is up to me to argue that the company did owe them more. Afterall, the company no doubt made many millions of dollars off of the sweat of these employees, who could certainly not control the marketability of the product that they were hired to assemble. I am sure that many of these people spent the most capable years of their lives devoted to their employer, who they thought might also be devoted to their hard work. Their long-term plans and retirement accounts were counting on this company’s success. But, alas, profitability was the final master who did not win, and people were let go.

End of defense. That was honest, but not difficult; it would be difficult to carry the argument further, however. Do I think that Roger Smith and GM, or any company for that matter, has a responsibility to provide for its employees’ lifelong wellbeing? Let me answer that question with a question: Do you think it is okay for an employee to walk out and quit when their own circumstances require, or to give a two-week notice as is customary? I would argue that most of us realize when taking any job that the gig could be up tomorrow, because there are no promises. We are in an agreement that we want to work, and that our employer needs us. It is not a “til death do us part” contract by any means. Why do they owe us more than we owe them?  I think that beyond keeping our retirement investments safe, our employers only owe us the wage for which we have worked. If they have promised to pay us two weeks out if the day of reckoning should ever come, then so be it.

Certainly, when the scale is multiplied by 100 or 1000 do the stakes of closing a plant become higher, but the consequences are still felt one person at a time. Am I sorry that happened?  Of course I am.  I have felt the pang of a pink slip and not knowing where my future would lie. But I always knew that the task of finding my next job, when wanted or needed, would lie on my shoulders alone. I have never expected that anyone would help me, except for myself. Everyone else is busy taking care of himself or herself, and expecting that I will do the same. Such is life.