On Wednesday, my first day back after my time off for the birth of my child, shortly after I went to work I was told by one of my managers that I would be having my meeting later on that afternoon. The day before I had left on my five day parental leave I had asked her what was at stake for this meeting. "That is an inappropriate question," she told me. It was inappropriate for a father, who was about to have a new baby, to ask if his job was threatened. At the meeting that morning I knew I was facing a severe cut to my salary. My meeting with her was brief. She was pale as a sheet as she informed me of the time of my official meeting. As I got up to leave she asked me: "May I ask how your new baby is doing?"
"Given the circumstances," I told her coldly. "I would say that is an inappropriate question." She broke down and cried.
The tension at work was intense. People asked me about my baby, and asked if I had brought any photos. In my state of nerves that morning, I had not brought any. I tried to go about my job, trying not to think that in an hour's time I may not have one.
The meeting was scheduled to begin at the time when I normally take my morning break. However, as was typical, there were delays. I grew tired of waiting, and went on break. Since I live very close to my place of work, I went home and got a few photos for all the people who seemed to wish to see one. When I returned, I was told the meeting was ready to begin.
I sat in a room with the head manager, the manager I had met with in the morning, someone from human resources, and a union representative. The rep would not look at me. The manager I had met with in the morning still had bleary eyes. The head manager, however, smiled as he began his brief presentation. The store was in trouble, he explained, and it was necessary for me and people like me to take a hit if the store was to survive. The store needed to be 'awesome,' he said, and these decisions would help it become so. I was struck that the shear idiocy of shrinking one's way "awesomeness" was apparently lost on him. Perhaps he didn't care. He certainly didn't give a damn about his workers, or their families, or my new child. He's a bean counter, and to him I was a figure in a column. He sat within arm's length of me. I kept my hands folded on the table.
He finished his presentation, and he and the other manager rose to leave. I called out to the second manager. She paused by me. Wordlessly I handed her a photograph of my son. She looked at it for a minute, her eyes welling up. "Thank you," she said. "He's beautiful." She hurried out of the room.
The Human Resources person began outlining my options. I could take the hit, and go from working 35 to twenty five hours a week, starting in October. I could take "Enhanced Severance", or two weeks pay for every year I worked here, which would amount to sixteen weeks pay. I could take some something called priority placement, which would be a period of time time on full pay while waiting for anew job to open up somewhere in the university. Because I have only been here eight years instead of nine, I would be in the priority placement for only six months, instead of a year. I have been watching the job postings. There has been nothing in my union stream for over two years. Lastly, I could do a bump. Basically, I find a job for which I am qualified which is held by someone with less seniority than me, and I bump them out of it, save my hide, and wreck theirs. The HR person left, and I was alone with the Union rep. he could barely look at me. He told me the news was going to be worse, that the bean counter had planned even more drastic measures, but the union had bargained their way out of it, to this place. In other words, the union was telling me these options were my only options. I nodded, rose and went back to work.
My co workers could not look at me, not at first. Later, they began sidling over to me and asking me what I would do. I shrugged. Pothead came by and began raging against all the management. "I was so close to just losing it at my meeting," he said. "I wanted to just punch him in the face." He also wanted to go the vice president who oversaw us and punch him in the face, too. Just for good measure. I nodded. I had my own dark thoughts to contend with, and the idea of vengeance was a very dark, very sweet thought. I shut him out and continued working.
I went home for lunch, and showed my wife the options I had been given. She read the list while I held the baby. "These are all crap," she said. "What are you going to do?" I shrugged. I had been praying lately for God to show me a way out of this mess, I was sick of the job, sick of my neighbourhood. There had to be a better way. Now everything was worse. Perhaps God was telling me to get out of the job. Perhaps He was telling me to be more grateful for what I had. "I think you should keep the job," Puff told me. I still didn't say anything. Lunch passed in silence for a time before Puff spoke again. "I was going to bring the baby by work, " she said. "But I guess with the way things are going, it would be best if I stayed away."
"No," I said. "Bring him. There are people who want to see him." I returned to work. I don't think I had eaten. I wasn't hungry.
And so the day passed. More whispers. Who would stay? Who would leave? Is there worse ahead? Who deserved to die for this? That sort of thing. My anger began to fade, and I began to feel numb. There was no point in punishing the bean counter, I decided. He is a small, petty, self absorbed, supercilious man, and simply being that is a worse punishment than anything I could ever come up with. I would ignore him, he wasn't worth my time. I had been mean to the other manager, and somehow that no longer sat well with me. Inflicting hurts on others would never heal my own. I should have remembered that.
Puff arrived a little before five, the baby in a marsupial. "Let me have him," I said. I took him around and showed him to the coworkers. Most of them had never seen a six day old baby before. "He's so tiny!" they said. Those who'd had children of their own said: "I forgot how small they were!" I went over to the managers offices, and found the office of the first manager I had met that day. She was talking to another manager. She squeaked at the sight of the baby. "O bear, he's so perfect!" she said. coming closer to see him. I've never met a woman who could resist a newborn.
"Would you like to hold him?" I asked.
"Could I?" she asked, her eyes shining. These meetings have been tough on her, too.
I handed the baby over to her, and she held him in the crook of her arm and cooed softly to him for a few moments. She smiled for the first time that day, for the first time in a few days, I imagine. I took the baby back. "May I speak to you for a moment?" I asked.
"Certainly," she said, and she invited me into her office. The brief glow on her face from when she held the baby faded. She did not know what to expect from me, but was prepared for the worst. She did not expect what I was about to say.
"I want to apologize for what I said to you this morning," I began. I wanted to add 'I should not have been so mean to you' but it came out "I was meaner to you than I should have been." I continued on: "I should have realized these meetings were tough on you, too."
She broke down crying again. "I am trying so hard to look out for you guys," she said. "You don't know how hard it is." She went on for a few more moments, and gave me a hug as I left her office. Management does not seem to be the right job for people who care.
I went home that night to try and explain to the kids how the little money we have was about to become even less. Things have never been easy, and now they would be harder. There would be fewer treats, fewer trips. They wanted to know how this could happen. Weren't good workers supposed to be rewarded? Dad, the rock of the house, had feet of clay. He couldn't do everything. I was exhausted from the day as I went to bed than night. On top of everything else, the baby was awake all that night.
The next day I returned to work. I still wasn't sure what I should do. The next day I returned to work. More questions. what would I do? The manager called me to her office again that morning. "I want to thank you for letting me hold your baby yesterday," she said to me. "I appreciate how hard all this has been for you, and it really meant a lot to me that you did that." I nodded to her. Where was she going with this?
"But now I have some good news for you," she said. "Come to a meeting at one o'clock today and we'll tell you all about it."
I was as confused as ever, but I agreed to come. When the time came I went to the meeting room, and saw two other workers there. They both looked as confused as I felt. The manager, the HR person and the union rep all showed up again, but fortunately the bean counter was missing. It was a small mercy. The meeting went quickly, and the news wasn't exactly good, but it was less bad than the news of the day before.They were giving us a fifth option: a new job, with some of the old responsibilities and some new ones. We would be getting paid at a higher rate of pay than if we simply kept our old jobs, even though we would still be part timers.
These, then, are my options: take the hit; quit; roll the dice and hope for something better soon; screw someone else; or take a little less of a hit. The new position would mean that, instead of losing about ten thousand dollars a year, I would only be losing about eight thousand five hundred. They called this a "better option". I would say it is more of a "less bad" option. This option has one potential catch: Someone else could bump me. Someone who, say, had greater seniority and was upset he hadn't been offered the job. There are quite a few of them around.
This has been my week: The joy and sleepless nights of a new baby, and the threat of losing my job. I still don't know what I will do. A large part of me simply wants to be done with this place and leave, but another part is telling me to stay and make the best of it. The job market is in the toilet right now, and having any job is better than having none. One of the benefits of this job is that they will pay for my children's education. The amount of money we have saved has been minimal, and this was the best chance for them. There are other benefits as well. I'll have to think seriously about this. Pray over it.
If anyone wants to add another prayer for us, I'd appreciate it.