Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Adventures in Unemployment

When I woke up Tuesday morning, it seemed like just another day. Like I do every morning, I groggily turned off my alarm at 7:10, fired up my laptop, padded off to the bathroom to brush my teeth and then to the kitchen to get a morning beverage before checking my mail and setting my work priorities for the day. On my way back from the refrigerator, I notice the message light on my living room phone was blinking. "So that was the phone ringing that briefly woke me up around 6:00 am," I think. I stop briefly to check what kind of message could be so important that the caller couldn't wait until a decent hour to call. What my groggy ears hear goes something like this:

Hello, Martina, this is H. from You're Now Fucked, Inc. I assume you were on the call this morning. I'm calling to officially notify you that we did file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. You were employed through March 11. You will be receiving a warning letter in the mail. Please contact me with any questions [despite the fact that I have left you absolutely no contact information whatsoever].

Excuse me? WTF? What call? I know I was employed yesterday. What does that mean? That I'm not employed today? Hell yes, I want the "repeat message" option, automated answering machine voice guy.

Again, I listen and he says same thing.

And again, the third time I listen.

Still stunned, I go to my laptop. I take a deep breath, trying to keep the panic out of my voice and try to call my boss. In the end, the effort is for naught, since he doesn't pick up anyway. While I am waiting through what feels like an eternity of rings, two coworkers IM me. I hang up. It's true. The company I have worked at for eleven years has filed for bankruptcy. Shit...

A moment later, an email pops up. A second conference call is taking place for remote employees like myself. Our CEO sounds numb as she tells us we will be paid through yesterday. There will be no more work, no more benefits, no more job, no more anything effective immediately. She repeats over and over that we should call the trustee if we have questions.

In some ways, I have it good compared to the employees at our headquarters. I get to go through my disbelief, shock and grief in the privacy of my own home. They, on the other hand, showed up for work like they would any other Tuesday morning, only to be told to pack up their things and go home.

I am stunned. I feel sick to my stomach, like someone just punched me in the gut. Maybe I'm still asleep and having a bad dream. Did I really just hear that a company that has been in business for 50 years has overnight ceased to exist.

And do you know why? It wasn't really because we were struggling (though we had been). It ended because we got caught in the crossfire of a dispute between the owners of the our parent company. Two billionaires locked in a greed feuled feud and now a couple hundred people are out of work with no notice, no insurance, no nothing. Two hundred people many of whom, like me, worked weekends and when we were sick to meet deadlines and ensure our respective pieces of the organization ran smoothly. Two hundred people who would have been better off jumping ship when the going got tough, but stayed, because they believed in the company's mission. Two hundred people who came to work yesterday only to be told to pack their things, say their goodbyes and go home with no warning, no benefits, no severance, no thank you for sticking it out when many people would have left.

I am filled with such a sense of sadness for myself and my coworkers. Even though somewhere inside I do know that I will get through this setback, I am terrified. Since I started working as a teenager, I have never been let go from a job. Never. I know NOTHING about unemployment. I haven't had to look for a job for eleven years. I have always left on my own time and my own terms.

And, yet, here I am. I counted on my pay check each month, even if it was nothing more than bubble gum money for our Forbes list owners. I will have enough to eat. I am (thankfully) in a good enough position that I will not lose my home, but what about all of my work friends who aren't as lucky as I am? What about the millions of people in this country who have lost everything in this economy of greed we have cultivated in this country?

When our owners acquired my company, the had they unmitigated gall to brag about the "Midwestern values" they were bringing to our organization. They sounded like a couple of billionaire evangelists come to teach us what it means to have real values. I wonder where those values were as they were decimating the livelihood of hundreds of loyal employees. Did they think only of sticking it to each other or was there a moment when they thought about what it would mean for the lives of their employees and their families? Do they think about what it is like for a parent to have to tell their child there won't be money for braces or tuition? Do they think about what it is like for those of us struggling to figure out how we're going to pay our mortgages? Our creditors? Our car payments? I am sure they are both so out of touch that they have no idea what it's like worry about such things, but many of us do.

The one silver lining in any of this is that, at least while I'm looking for a new job, I will again have energy to do some of the creative stuff that had slowly drifted out of my life as I've focused on the analytical parts of my profession. I apparently have some time for blogging, writing and creating again. So, for now, I am off to sing "I will survive" while I wait on hold with the bank to find out how to release my 401k and pay off some bills. I may have lost my job, but I still have my soul. I'm not as certain my former parent company can say that about itself or its "Midwestern values".


mel unemployed said...

martina, i'm really enjoying your writing! and i can relate so much to everything you wrote here!

Martina said...

Thanks, Mel. I've been following yours too and feel the same way!