Kay: Like Chicago workers, take responsibility for your destinyby Andrea Kay on Dec. 11, 2008, under Edge
Workers in Chicago who lost jobs after their window and door factory employer gave them three days’ notice are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.
Staging a sit-in that began on the last day of the plant’s operation, they plopped themselves onto folding chairs and pallets on the factory floor. They say they’re not leaving until they get what’s coming to them – severance and vacation pay.
The 200-plus workers doing eight-hour sit-in shifts cite the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires employers to give 60 days’ notice of a plant closing or mass layoff to employees and their unions. The law does allow some exceptions to this rule, “including one for ‘faltering companies’ that may fear that a layoff notice could affect their chances of getting capital or new business,” USA TODAY reported.
Never mind that a legal technicality might render their plight moot.
In light of corporate bailouts, businesses’ difficulty in getting credit and the overall mood of workers who were already on the rampage before everything began to crumble this fall, these people stand for much more.
They are the culmination of a movement festering for years – one so big, I wrote a book about it that, ironically, came out this month. At its heart, their movement is about fair exchange.
That’s what the work relationship was supposed to be. Workers gave time, talent, skills, knowledge and education and employers provided a decent place to work, salary and bonuses. Trouble erupts when that contract is broken.
Factor in the feeling you’re being lied to and it gets worse. The New York Times reported some workers at the Chicago factory said managers removed heavy equipment in the middle of the night in November and, when asked about it, said all was well.
My 20-year “Lies My Company Told Me” file is overflowing. If you’d like to commiserate, there are samples in my book.
Workers in other companies are angry because they’ve lost trust in their institution due to naughty executives. Others are working harder and getting less for it.
The anger extends to job hunting and complaints of unresponsive hiring managers. One job hunter told me the highlight of his week was getting a “thanks but no thanks letter” – he was overjoyed that someone had taken the time to acknowledge him.
As a worker, you do not control many things that render this relationship unbalanced. But there are things you influence to suffer less and prosper more as we shift deeper into a new economy and the uncertainty that accompanies it.
If it’s important to grow and develop in your career, take total responsibility for your professional development. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you how you’re doing. If you want to be prepared for the unknown, develop and meet regularly with a cadre of supportive people.
If you want to be on top of what could be next, then track this: What knowledge do I lack? How can I excel or gain more expertise? How can I master my trade or become the valuable expert in my field?
You can also take a stance on issues that matter to you. Whether that’s at-will employment, paid family medical leave or workplace bullying, learn about legislation being introduced on these issues and communicate with the people and institutions influencing them.
Yes, the pendulum has swung far to one side, with profit at the expense of people, community and even companies. Yes, companies and other institutions need to do their part to bring this back in balance.
In the meantime, what can you do to not only take care of yourself, but also move that conversation forward?
Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., #133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: email@example.com.