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Lori Falce

Lori Falce: The sad break up of being laid off

Lori Falce
| Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018, 4:33 p.m.
Snow covers the perimeter of the General Motors' Lordstown plant, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in Warren, Ohio. Even though unemployment is low, the economy is growing and U.S. auto sales are near historic highs, GM is cutting thousands of jobs in a major restructuring aimed at generating cash to spend on innovation. GM put five plants up for possible closure, including the plant in Lordstown. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Snow covers the perimeter of the General Motors' Lordstown plant, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in Warren, Ohio. Even though unemployment is low, the economy is growing and U.S. auto sales are near historic highs, GM is cutting thousands of jobs in a major restructuring aimed at generating cash to spend on innovation. GM put five plants up for possible closure, including the plant in Lordstown. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

They call it being “laid off.”

It sounds gentle. It sounds regretful and sad, but at the same time, somehow inconsequential. If you are laid off, after all, you just need to get back up. Hop on that bike. Jump on that horse. Grab those bootstraps and pull.

Something about the words “laid off” takes less responsibility than other kinds of separations. I didn’t fire you. I didn’t terminate you. I didn’t dismiss you. You were just laid off. It’s the most passive aggressive of endings, something that sounds as if it was done as much to the employer as the employee.

And 6,000 GM workers could be having this break-up chat with human resources as someone sits them down to have a conversation that says, “It’s not you, it’s us. We just can’t pay you.”

Let’s be clear. GM is not in mortal fiscal danger as it makes a move designed to save $6 billion or so. It is not facing bankruptcy as it did in 2009 with $173 billion in debts and liabilities balanced against just $82 billion in assets. No, it’s shuttering factories and relocating production to make a change in direction.

The company is putting less focus on combustion engines and more on electric cars. It will be less car shop and more transportation technology.

Hey, GM, I get it. I understand. It’s not like journalism isn’t having its own shifting sands as we try to figure out how to integrate the old school product with the new school demands.

I’ve also had that conversation with HR. I’ve had it with other managers as we decided how much we could cut before we bled, and how much we could bleed before we died.

I’ve had it as I begged employees to understand that changes I was making weren’t random and cruel. They were targeted necessities designed to try and improve things as much as possible before someone lost his job. I’ve come back three months later, discouraged when no one listened, and a year later when the inevitable occurred.

And I’ve had the conversation personally when cuts were made and I opted for the axe myself. In a world where technology changes every day, there is no industry where labor is safe.

But no one is bailing out newspapers. No one is putting $50 billion on the table to help news agencies figure out how to negotiate the needs of old school paper readers with new school device consumers. Government isn’t clamoring to keep reporters and page designers and pressroom employees on the payroll. We are not too big to fail.

GM picked up a $50 billion check to keep on trucking. They paid back about $39 billion, but that’s still $11 billion in taxpayer money that was meant to keep people here making the rent and paying for groceries and putting clothes on the kids.

So while I sympathize with GM, I empathize with those 6,000 employees who are now trying to figure out how to replace a life-sustaining paycheck.

In Ohio, there will be plenty of people updating their resumes and searching through employment websites. They will weigh the benefits of a job across the country with the costs of relocation. They will look for a bike to hop back on or bootstraps to pull.

But hopefully, in GM’s corporate offices, someone is looking ahead to the next chapter, the next advancement, the next technology, and doing it before anyone needs to be laid off.

Lori Falce is the Tribune-Review community engagement editor.

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