I have been laid off for two weeks now. It wasn't a huge surprise
. The company I had worked for was running out of work, and coming apart at the seams. Meeting
s had turned into shouting match
es. The co-owners were barely speaking to each other. A company that once employed 300 people is down to 15.
We are often reminded about how excellent the private sector is. Bullshit. The only advantage the private sector enjoys over government is that bad businesses run out of money. In government, good managers run out of money, because their funding has much more to do with the-flavor-of-the-month than job performance. Bad firms fail. While bad government officials sometimes get promoted, and bad CEOs often get another company to manage, the workers get screwed. They get to hit the streets.
The failure of my company came from one cause, greed. The owner of my company had inherited it, with a significant fortune from his father. Daddy had a good team in the office, and good people in the field. Jobs were bid properly, run properly and the company made money.
Then the young, handsome owner declared if we make seven million in profit this year, I'll pay everyone a big bonus. It was a lofty goal, but doable. People dug in and worked hard. But at the end of the year the company fell $2.97 short of the goal. The owners paid themselves big bonues. Nobody else got a dime
Of course one can argue that technically, the goal was not met and therefore no bonus need be paid. Of course a smart boss might remember that he employs people and not paying something would seem like a slap in the face. But the issue gets even worse, as it turns out the accounting was juggled by Chief Financial Officer, another co-owner, so that one job paid two weeks later than the cut off date. In other words, the goal was met and the bonus had been earned.
Employee morale plummeted. The smart people who had made all this money found employment elsewhere. Other workers with brains, saw which way the wind was blowing and bailed.
But that didn't deter the co-owners. They knew what the company needed. Cheap labor. The problem is that electrical contracting is technical work, requiring skilled labor. But hey, all people are interchangeable. Hire the cheapest people possible. Hire people in the office who's primary talent is schmoozing. Yell at the foreman so he'll be scared and make sure things get done. Make sure foremen don't have much help, because help must be paid.
It was into this environment I stepped last year. At first i worked with my friend Chris. We had three journeymen, Chris, myself and recent journeyman named Roxanne. She's a terrific worker, but with limited experience, one who can take responsibility in most jobs but still needs guidance. And a couple lemons. plus two competent apprentices.
Our project manager moved to another company, tired of having to work 70+ hours a week to get his job done properly. Then Chris, who had worked with him for years left as well. I took over the job. I asked the new project manager for someone to replace me as senior journeyman. He told me no one was available. I told him my biggest worry was in estimating how long it would take to complete various phases of the project. he told me just do my best.
That was the extent of their help. if you had a contract worth the better part of a million dollars and a green foreman wouldn't you send the project manager to at least sit in on the job meetings? No project manager attended a single weekly meeting with me. Not once. Would you come around and teach him the paperwork? Apparently not. Would you keep up with the paperwork and pricing on extras, which are guaranteed profit because they are time and material. Well, they didn't do that either, and thousands in extras would lost. On top of that my data sub-contractor went under during the waning phases of the job. I had a couple shouting matches.
And oh yeah, the second project manager was fired for incompetence three months after I took over the job. The purchasing manager didn't act on the replacement light order I gave him March 1 until late May. Good fundamentalist Christian that he is, he denied I'd ever sent him the order. Until I turned up with the original order sheet, and a copy i had faxed to the project manager on the very same day as the original.
i lost a lot of sleep, and weight, running that job. But i got the job built. But I ended up on the company out-list. You see, the job which had been expected to make money, lost a bundle. The new project manager told me we had run out of money in May, and i didn't complete the job until late june. I had taken a sure money-winner and turned it into a loser. I felt like one as well.
Today I ran into the original project manager while putting in a job application. It turns out they had lied to me the whole time. Another job had been underbid. In order to cover one well-connected ass they took some 400 hours and $200,000 in material and billed it to my job. That had been found and put back later, but no one ever told me. I had made them money hand over fist. But they continued to lie to me because I would have-- quite rightly-- used that to say, 'Okay, i've proven myself how about a raise?"
So now they are about to go down. The lack of skill has led to a few, no more than a few debacles. Many builders won't accept bids from my former employer. I saw why in the time between my job and the end. They ran commercial panel rooms in MC cable because they didn't have enough people who know how to run pipe. In five commercial buildings, I was the only guy who ever ran a pipe in a panel room, One guy almost got blown up.
The last two weeks have been tough. No matter the reason, getting laid off feels like failure. I hate to see a business fail, and good people go without work. But I refuse to mourn for this company. Like a whole lot of old school capitalists, the boss never saw his line employees as people. He's got enough money left that he won't go hungry. Alas his greed and corruption have left a lot of better men and women without a paycheck.