Thursday, September 23, 2010

Still Thinking About Up in the Air...part 7.99

Okay, I need to wrap up the final Still Thinking About Up In the Air, at least until such a time that I can talk about other jobs, but here it goes.  I already established that I was actually happy at this job, I greatly enjoyed the people who I worked with and I initially, saw the possibility for the company to grow and be successful, plus I felt valued as an employee.  I was proud to be there and I had faith in the company.

As I mentioned last time, we were moving apparel from good factories to new (i.e. cheaper) factories that were not yet established as strong apparel builders.  This was the time that we also began to hemorrhage executives and directors, unfortunately, the owner was not one of the ones to leave.  The director of my department left shortly after the screaming session he received and one of the managers took his place, and he is a great guy.  We had so many Chief Operations Officers that I can barely remember them, except for one who was tough as nails and really wanted to turn things around...too bad he openly opposed many of the things that the owner said and did...later, dude, you're fired.  Top sales directors began to flee to our competitors in droves.  The truth was that these people were privy to information that us grunts did not have, and they didn't like what they saw; they also didn't appreciate being screamed at on a regular basis.

There was a revolving door of leadership, factories would not work with us, factories were holding shipments hostage until they were paid, we were losing customers tired of not receiving critical shipments, and the biggest brand--my brand--was taking back design of their apparel and gradually taking back control of the license.  With less and less control of the brand and a lack of understanding of the US market, the brand began to make some ugly-as-sin apparel that would never sell in the US market or replicate sales like we had when my company retained full control of the designs.  This led to one big question:  why did they take back control of the brand that my company had done so well with?  My guess...agreed upon by others in the that we were misreporting sales to the brand and not paying them the agreed upon royalties.

All during this time, the company moved distribution centers again, which was very costly, and the inevitable layoffs began to happen.  The first round of layoffs was not that big of a deal, as the jobs cut were people who essentially did nothing, and would regularly show up for only a few hours a day while collecting immense paychecks.  Good riddance.  It was the second and third round where things began to become scary.  This is when some good people began to be let go, people who really cared about the business, and there were rumors that these people were not receiving the best of severance deals.  *Something I have never understood...the people who were essentially stealing from the company (some literally), the first rounders, received very generous severance packages, while those who did their job and did it well, possibly investing years of their lives in the company, received all but a few weeks severance; at least they received something.  This kind of bullshit almost always goes down with troubled companies: the dip-shits prosper and the loyal hard-workers get the shaft.

You would think because the money was tight, the business was hurting, staff was being let go, and the recession was beginning to hit, that the company would tighten their belts (I love business jargon) and be conservative with their business practices.  Nope.  The company continued doing extravagant trade shows, which are a necessity, but they refused to scale back the scope of these shows and spending.  We also decided to move the company from Goleta to Carpinteria, which I assumed was a cost cutting maneuver, but then excessive amounts of construction was occurring on the first and second level to make the place extravagent; we barely filled the top floor.

There was also another party at the Bacara, which after the last party was a bit of a surprise, but the recession was either hurting them or we had signed an multiple year agreement to hold our party there.  Although the party was fun and stoopidly expensive, something was missing.  The confidence was gone and the people--what remained of them--knew that this was possibly the last party that they would be attending as an employee of the company.

The move to Carpinteria happened, which was a letdown to me now that I had a commute, but at the same time I had become much closer to the people still working for the company.  I worked closely with my new director, crunching the numbers and preparing the reports and we became pretty good friends.  Very shortly after, my direct manager, the woman who hired me, announced that she was leaving for somewhere stable and sane, and although I was very happy for her, the selfish side of me was devastated to see her go.  The only positive thing to come of my manager moving on, was that I was promoted to her position, receiving the promotion and the bump in only lasted for a few months.

The last three months involved the main brand going on lockdown and not just refusing to have our apparel shipped, but refusing to communicate in any fashion with the company at all.  Since I dealt solely with the main brand, I essentially had nothing to do.  Then, an outside investor--the second one--had been duped... sorry...convinced of the strong potential of the company, but even they began to have doubts.    Employees working like maniacs in an effort to salvage the company slowly began to realize that their efforts were in vain and finally began to understand that as long as the owner was not just burning bridges, but also cities and towns in his path of self destruction, that the company was doomed.  Construction on the ground floor then ceased and we were asked to keep the entry doors locked to keep local companies from showing up to demand money that was owed to them.

Then came the day our checks did not show up in our accounts.  People began asking each other if their checks had been direct deposited and as it became clear that the they were not, panic grew.   To put the icing on the cake, no executives were anywhere to be found.  After about an hour, people began to calm to the point of being nearly catatonic, opting instead to wander aimlessly around the office and peer out the window in the hopes of seeing an executive pull up with a bag of checks for each of us. Since I had been through this level of bullshit a few times in the past, I spent my time looking up California labor laws on what an employer was legally liable to provide.

Around 11:00am, the executives finally showed up to say that they were going to be writing out checks for each of us and that they would level with us as to the state of the company.  A flurry of corporate speak later, it was said that we were in dire straights, but that the company was not going away if they had anything to say about it and that they were looking at new investors to help us through this final rough period.  They then answered questions from the employees, including listening to one woman--a really nice, sweet person by the way--sob that she had faith in the company and the executives and that she trusted them to look out for all of us and take care of us.  Being the incredible cynic that I am, I thought that she was FAR too naive; two weeks later, I turned out to be correct.  *One thing to note is that the owners wife, allegedly an incredibly wealthy woman, was in attendance and rolling her eyes and acting openly hostile whenever an employee said something, which was very weird.

The next pay period came and again no checks, and no executives.  This time the employees skipped the panic stage and went briefly into catatonic and finally into anger and resentment.  People began calling their attorney brother-in-laws and calling friends to ask if their company happened to be hiring.  Some even went completely mental when noon rolled around and still with no word they began to raid the apparel sample rooms to grab anything that they could, but the real capper came when the owners righthand man showed up furious.  Here was a person who was always upbeat, positive and felt as if they were part of the company, and they were irate.  They told us that they were at the Employment Development Department and that the owner, his wife and a couple of the other executives were trying to see if they could get out of paying the employees--the ones who had stuck through ALL of the bullshit--their wages and their accrued vacation time.  This person said that the owners wife was so incensed that they personally were liable to pay all of us, that she stated, "they should be grateful that they even got to work for us.  What about US?  They're just the little people."  The little people.  The fucking little people?

Eventually, our lords of employment, the ones us "little people" just needed to shut up and worship, drove up to inform us that today was the last day of our employment and that we needed to come back in four hours to collect our final checks.  This time there was no emotion wrought statements of trust or faith, only an air of wanting to be paid so that we could get the hell out of there and put the whole experience behind us.  We were to be paid our wages, our vacation time, no sick time and we were offered a fabulous option to temporarily continue insurance.  The insurance, however, was not COBRA, since the company was dead, but an outside insurer that ended up denying almost everyone due to preexisting conditions; I was denied for an allergy test that I had taken the prior year.  I drove to Ventura to look around for a few hours and came back to gather my check from the unapologetic owner and his seething with contempt wife.

So many good and fiercely loyal people were cast aside that day as if they were nothing, but secretly I was relieved to be released from the drama and horrendous boredom of the past few months.  Writing these Still Thinking About Up In the Air recollections has been therapeutic to some degree.  It's funny how at one point my heart swells with love for those who I enjoyed working with, to sadness at how ignorantly hopeful I was, and to anger over how employees--the little people--are treated by businesses out to make a short-term buck for themselves, and maintain appearances of wealth as opposed to focusing on the long-term goal of being successful and everyone basking in the prosperity.  In the end I am glad I shared.

No comments:

Post a Comment