Professionals & Managers Beware, You May Not Be Essential

Tech Workers

            Marble Falls      Regular workers under fire from bosses is old news, and what many believe is just the way it is, and will always be.  Class being what it is, that is just normal.  Workers had their moment during the pandemic though.  Many unheralded jobs suddenly became understood, sometimes for the first time, as essential.  Employers had to mind their manners a bit, offer wages and incentives to fill shortfalls, recruit like crazy, and even pull their feet off the accelerator with their staff.  Some of these changes of attitude and personnel practices continue.  Rank-and-file workers have been feistier and, in some cases, organized to push for more in order to cement gains made during the pandemic in wages and working conditions.

Now with inflation and threat of a recession something interesting is happening.  There are still a gazillion jobs that need to be filled.  Turnover in recent years in sectors like retail has been immense.  Bosses are still bad, but we don’t see huge layoffs of hourly workers.  The immediate target for bosses seems to be professionals of a sort, managers, human resources people, and others who are caught in the middle between essential wage-workers and workers with specialized skills.

Rough counts put the tech layoffs across Silicon Valley at over 100,000 workers at this point.  Amazon is a good example perhaps.  Layoffs are significant, but they aren’t happening in the warehouses and fulfillment centers, but at headquarters and mid-levels.  Even with Elon Musk’s cowboy-style layoffs at Twitter, he was careful to try and keep his engineers and coders, seeing the rest of his professional class and mangers as so expendable, that he was willing to absorb an additional loss of another thousand or more workers if they weren’t willing to stop being remote and go “hard core.”

Sure, Musk’s methods are draconian, but he may be the canary in the bosses’ coal mine singing that professionals in the middle may be the easiest to off load.  For example, take a story somewhat buried in the Wall Street Journal about Ford Motor’s new approach to its “white collar” workers where Ford is…

…telling managers that some of those workers must choose between severance or a performance enhancement program. The changes in its talent-management policy mostly focus on employees who have eight or more years of service and whom the company has identified as demonstrating a pattern of declining performance….These employees now have the option of taking the severance, rather than enroll in the enhancement plan, which can take four to six weeks, the email and spokeswoman said.  Those who instead choose the enhancement plan but fail to improve won’t be eligible for any severance, according to the Oct. 4 email, which went to all U.S. managers.

And, these are staff with eight or more years of service, who surely thought they were safe and secure.  For those with less, Ford’s policy recommends the old heave-ho for those deemed under par.  In retail, much the same is at play.  Dollar stores routinely, as part of their business model, work their managers to the bone with almost unlimited work hours.  Walmart middle managers are the first to go in the face of a declining economy.  This is a recurring pattern.

If you’re on the floor, in the warehouse, or at the counter, your job is secure these days, even if it is a long way from wonderful. Between the bottom and the boss, you could be in trouble.  For all of those who thought they had found a safe space in the middle and a road to the middle class as well, welcome to our world.  When the going gets tough, the big boss thinks you are just as expendable as the widgets at lower wages used to be, and likely will be again, if they aren’t already.  Sorry to say, welcome to the real world, and a new understanding of why unions are so important, up and down the line.