Wednesday, January 12, 2011

“Don’t Blame Us, Blame, uh, the Menu!”

Sometimes all it takes is an exposed thread.

Pull it enough and pretty soon you won’t be able to stop and the whole fucking skein unravels. After a whole afternoon of skullduggery, I’ve been able to chart the career of a corporate clown from right here in Massachusetts and this serves as a synechdoche for everything that is wrong with this country, starting with the trade imbalance and inability for experienced, trained and educated American workers to find a job that doesn’t involve picking up cow shit with their bare hands.

Let’s play Momento and start from the end and work our way backwards to the beginning, during which time I’ll tell you what led me down the rabbit hole that goes to (where else?) China. Regarding the trade imbalance, here’s a big reason for ours with Communist China:
According to Reed Electronics Group, by the end of 2005, China accounted for 16% of global electronics output, up from 6% in 2000 and under 3% in 1995. In the period from 1995 to 2005, electronics output in China rose from $28 billion to $210 billion. By contrast, electronics output in the United States reached $342 billion in 2005, up from $285 billion 10 years earlier.

“OK, not to rain on your parade, JP, but how is this newsworthy? Lots of corporations ship their jobs to China and overseas." And you’d be right but this is just the beginning and there’s one thing in common that runs through this whole skein. Now, for some particulars.

Way back in 2003, a Mountain View-based company named Spectra-Physics began shipping American jobs “expanding their international market” to Beijing, China. Here’s the problem: It’s one thing to expand your international market. It’s another thing to lay people off by the dozens while creating jobs overseas so you can have the same work done much more cheaply. That’s not “expanding your international market” but plain, cold-hearted greed.

(A grimly amusing sidebar: The journalist writing one of these articles states, “While layoffs are never good news, it is important to clarify that the layoffs had been planned for some time as a result of pre-announced outsourcing of particular product lines and technologies.” Oh, I’m sure that learning their jobs were already secretly axed by Spectra-Physics executives well in advance of their plans to outsource those peoples’ jobs to China came as a big relief to them while they had to suddenly restructure their finances and fear actual financial ruin.)

These past 30 years or so, Rochester, NY’s Kodak hasn’t been doing too well, either, laying off almost 60,000 workers since the early 80’s. Their CEO, George Fisher, got paid $11,000,000 back in 1995 after slashing tens of thousands of jobs so he and his fellow executive scumbags wouldn’t have to take a pay cut.

And, lest we forget, back in 1998, during these 60,000 layoffs, Kodak began outsourcing jobs to China, specifically to three failing companies it had taken over.

In 2003, AT Cross of Lincoln, Rhode Island laid off about 160 workers and began shipping jobs to China. In fact, the very pen commissioned and used by Barack Obama his first day in office was a Cross pen that was made in China and only decorated in the US. By 2006, they’d outsourced many manufacturing jobs to, you guessed it, China, so that its CFO, Kevin Mahoney, was crowing about their resurgent profits due to “restructuring in our manufacturing operations” (not to mention shipping US jobs to a Communist dictatorship, having wage slaves do the work for a tiny fraction of what a Rhode Island worker would have to get paid while still charging top dollar for their overpriced product line).

Lastly, we come to Evergreen Solar, based in Marlborough, Massachusetts a few miles from us. Since 2009, there have been grumblings that Evergreen Solar would take the $58,000,000 given to them by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, not including low-interest loans and a 30 year lease, and start laying people off. Well, yesterday, Evergreen announced they were shipping 800 American jobs to, you guessed it again, China (Wuhan, this time.). A little over a year ago, they forced a 10% pay cut on their employees in order to prevent layoffs then decided back in 2009 to lay off hundreds. They broke their promise to their employees and to the state of Massachusetts that had been so solicitous and generous toward them.

Their reason for laying off so many people is identical to AT Cross, Kodak and so many other American companies: The Chinese are selling their products at or below cost and we have to not only shrink by laying off thousands in order to survive, but instead of importing our products there, we have to make them there using local (and very, very cheap) labor. Don’t blame us, in other words, blame the infallible free market.

Now, you might ask, what do all these companies have in common? Well, they all employed a scumbag named Richard M. Feldt (here’s his executive profile) in one executive capacity or another. Well, Dick M.’s motto was “Dick ‘em” because every company he ever headed up or worked for wound up outsourcing jobs to China after laying off God knows how many hundreds if not thousands of workers. And, in the grand scheme of things, Feldt is still a piker compared to even bigger scumbags like GM’s Roger Smith and every other CEO or Chairman who threw tens of thousands of loyal American workers into the streets.

It’s notable that the very same month he scuttled out of his Evergreen office (just 6 days later, in fact), he smoothly moved into another executive suite with a company named Advanced Electron Beams that obviously hadn’t taken a very close look at his executive profile before welcoming him into their boardroom with wide open arms and the highest hopes he was going to turn them around. In the wake of wherever this man goes, layoffs, broken lives and the Chinese follow. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this corporate cocksucker was a professional embedded mole for the US Chamber of Commerce.

So what got me started on this little investigation of Dick Feldt’s companies and his corporate track record?

It was a little rant that almost got by me on Craigslist. It was something about Evergreen Solar being gone from the state by the end of the quarter and that anyone going for a job there was a sucker.

I’m one of those suckers in a way.

I had answered a job ad on Craigslist from a company posing as Evergreen Solar and they emailed me last week to ask when they could call me. The email address even contained the words “evergreen solar” so I was convinced it was on the up and up. When I saw they had a facility in Marlborough, the next town south of me, I offered to drive down there and talk to her directly and she coldly replied that I should wait until I got her call.

She was interviewing by telephone for some positions in the very same Devens, Massachusetts plant that plans on 86ing 800 jobs by the end of the month after next. The woman called me yesterday, made some ridiculous offer that wasn’t really an offer and displayed no interest in my quality control background. The manufacturing job paid just $13 per hour, was in Devens and when I asked about health care, she told me I had to get it through the Mass Health Connector at my own expense (a quick look last year revealed that the smallest premium I could get was almost $80 a week, not including co-pays and deductibles). She desultorily said she’d forward my resume to a couple of managers who were hiring and that was that.

So when I read that little rant on Craigslist I started doing some investigating, starting with tracing the number I was called from yesterday. Turns out it’s a California-based temp agency called Advanced Technical Solutions and when I called the number back that’s what the voice mail greeting said. They’re dropping Evergreen Solar’s name about to fool people into thinking the company is hiring outright.

By today, I was probably the last person in the Bay State to realize these cocksuckers had been planning to skedaddle with almost $60,000,000 of state taxpayer money to make and keep jobs in Massachusetts and now, blaming the Free Market and economic conditions (namely, the Chinese making solar panels either at or even below cost), they’re giving Gov. Deval Patrick and at least 800 Massachusetts workers the finger as they start learning Chinese.

So my question is this: Why is a temp agency (and I haven’t even mentioned the equally shady involvement of Kelly Temps, who also are trying to hire people to work for this dying company) casting about for temp workers when 800 are scheduled to lose their jobs by the end of March?

And why is the mainstream media so complicit in whitewashing these stories and portraying these thousands of tragedies as mere market fluctuations and why aren't they taking a stand for the American worker?


At January 13, 2011 at 6:10 AM, Anonymous Dispassionate observer said...

Talking about tragedies, you're well-educated, so you certainly know the underlying dynamic behind "the tragedy of the commons." Usually this refers to villagers who graze too many livestock on the common pasture owned by all, or fishermen who catch too many fish in the common fishing grounds.

But did you ever consider that outsourcing is like the tragedy of the commons? If one company sends jobs to communist China in exchange for lower-cost goods, it works. When EVERY company does it, as you're finding, it's a tragedy for the economic commons. What good is it for Americans (and China, too) if Mal-Wart is filled with cheap plastic crap, but no one has a job so they can buy it?

I'm not sure how this will play out for an end-game. The U.S. has approximately 20% of its workforce in your position, unemployed or underemployed. Boss-class people like this Feldt don't care, because they have milked off millions as they destroy their companies and their country. They'll have enough to live comfortably for the rest of their natural lives in the Detroit-level wasteland they're making of the U.S.

What about when there are 100 million people in your shoes, though? Do you riot? Die quietly? Does the U.S. become a giant farm, growing food for the master class in China and elsewhere, the way Ireland was during the Potato Famine? Do Chinese migrate to America en masse as they buy the land with the money America shipped them in exchange for Barbies and Super-Soakers?

I'm glad I don't live there. My country is distant and cohesive enough that it might escape the depredations that are coming to the U.S. My fear is that America will start tossing nukes as it flails downward, and take the rest of humanity with it in one final, spasmodic Samson Option.

At January 13, 2011 at 10:25 AM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

DO: I'm curious what country you live in. Barb and I have long dreamed / planned on leaving this giant prank cigar of a country before it blows up in everyone's faces.

If Americans are truly part of the human race, when 100,000,000 are out of work and even basic necessities become scarce and unaffordable, we will riot. Eventually. But we're largely complacent enough to allow this to go on for maybe another generation and keep playing Whack-A-Mole with every election.

Just to play Devil's Advocate for a second, almost all publicly traded companies have to strike that balance between what's good for them and their shareholders and what's good for the employees. Corporations have shown for centuries that when times get tough, the tough get going and that will inevitably involve layoffs and outsourcing.

I don't see any way around this, frankly, and no stimulus bill is going to bring back or create even a fraction of the jobs we need to stay vocationally solvent. To bring jibs back, you have to talk CEOs and Chairmen out of their greed and to look to their hearts to see what the right thing to do is.

Yeah, I know. I'm chuckling, too. That's why I'm not confident at all that anything is going to change until the whole system crashes. As the lady once said, "Sometimes, the best solution is to break everything."

At January 13, 2011 at 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OR just(ly) that small portion of US that's already cracked!

At January 14, 2011 at 10:03 AM, Anonymous The dispassionate guy said...

I'm in Canada, JP. And unless you've got relatives up here, I wouldn't advise trying to immigrate. It takes a lot of money to re-establish one's self. New housing, new living quarters, overcoming the bureaucratic hurdles to get a job legally... Canadian employers, at least the ethical ones who want to do things legally, want to see that you have a SIN -- Social Insurance Number, similar to your Social Security number. Anyone who would hire you without that would be the equivalent to an unscrupulous American company that employs illegal Mexicans under the table. Not the sort of person you'd want to work for, eh?

Each province's socialized medical system will not enroll you without the SIN. You also wouldn't have much chance of getting a driver's license, auto insurance or anything else official without a SIN.

Every advanced country that I know of has similar restrictive identity documents. If you want to flee the U.S., your best chance would be to go to a less-developed country. Do you read Joe Bageant, the reformed redneck blogger who wrote a book titled "Deer Hunting With Jesus"? He moved to Belize, then Mexico. I've read tales of other U.S. refugees, but most of them seemed to have some financial cushion for their flight. Your straits seem more dire. You'd be better off finding some way to re-purpose your life in the U.S. There will be millions more joining your lot in life before long.

At January 14, 2011 at 10:50 AM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

The only real reason I had for not wanting to move to Canada is because I hate the cold. Always have, always will. Whatever we get here in MA, you guys get twice as bad.

My friend and reader Bukko recently left Australia and moved to the Great White North. He seems to be pretty comfortable there and had no problem finding a job (he's a geriatric nurse). But that's good for him. Maybe not so good for us. If I had Fuck You miney, Mrs. JP and I would more likely to move to Mexico than Canada.

We haven't made any plans to go to any place specifically but we always keep it in the backs of our minds. There's a ray of sunshine, though- I just had a phone screening with a company that offers a kickass benefit package, competitive starting wages and 100% company-paid health care and a 401(k) plan. So, hopefully, that'll work out and I'll survive both rounds of interviews. Here in the states, job hunting has turned into American Idol without the celebrity and commercial endorsements..

At January 14, 2011 at 11:40 AM, Blogger Bukko Canukko said...

Psychiatric nurse, JP, not geriatric. I got bumped off the medical unit where I was working since they recruited me because the hospital is closing beds and bringing in lower-paid LPNs to replace some of us RNs. Not that I expect you to keep up-to-date on my job specialty.

Luckily, the union makes the hospital give preference to current workers for any job openings. I'm loving the transfer. The psych floor is SO much easier than medical. All the patients are walkie-talkies, not lay-and-shittys. The lifting, turning and constant walking I had to do on the medical unit was wearing me down. Now I have more violence, but less poo.

We get a higher than you'd expect percentage of psych patients from the immigrant communities. I had a woman from Trinidad, two Chinese guys and a Cambodian lady out of the eight people I was overseeing last shift. The middle-aged Sikh male nurse I was working with has a brooding schizophrenic from Rwanda who fled to Uganda as a teenager to escape the genocide. I don't know if immigrants are predisposed to mental illness because of why they left their homelands -- the Cambodian endured abuse and saw some hellacious stuff, according to her history. Or maybe the stress of changing cultures aggravates underlying weaknesses. But the fish out of water cast on different shores often wind up with gasping psyches.

And speaking of SINs, when you're a temporary immigrant like me, you get a number starting with "9". Banks and other institutions know that means you're a furriner, so they won't give you credit. Immigrants, even Anglos like me, get shat on in many ways.

Did you get what I sent you in the post?

At January 14, 2011 at 12:03 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

What post, Bukko, this one? If so, yes. If not, no.

"Temporary immigrant" pretty much describes my status and state of mind now. I turn 52 on Sunday and this is not the same country I lived in 30 or even 10 years ago. It simply isn't. When I was a kid of 19 just starting out in '78, I never would've dreamed that you needed to go through 2 phone screening and perhaps two rounds of interviews just to be considered for a job, that they'd do a criminal background check, a drug screening, a credit check just for a shitty job that pays minimum wage, or that gas would be so expensive I'd have to work a half hour at a shitty minimum wage job just to buy one gallon.

I never dreamed that temp agencies would co-opt what few manufacturing jobs we'd have left and make you jump through hoops of fire and test you up the wazoo and make you come back for an unpaid 4 hour orientation and offer starvation wages for skilled, 3rd shift positions. I never dreamed that you'd have to provide your own PPE including safety boots and even hard hats because companies didn't want to pay for them any more, that health care and paid vacations would be made conditional on working a certain thresh hold of hours and that they could move the goalposts back by simply not letting you work 40 hours a week, that unions both public and private would be so weakened and that workers would be forced to take pay and benefit cuts to avoid layoffs that come, anyway.

I never dreamed that living within my means, paying cash as I went and staying debt-free would actually work against me and threaten my future job prospects. I never dreamed that millions of American jobs would shipped overseas to China, India, Mexico, etc simply because companies wanted to save on overhead expenses.

Dude, where's my fucking country? I don't even feel like a citizen of the United States, anymore. I feel like an unemployed serf who'd been deleted from the American Dream by an unseen hand.

At January 17, 2011 at 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want another kick in the nuts?
The very same week Evergreen Solar is throwing 800 people onto unemployment line they bring in a new CFO with a compensation package worth a little over $550,000. Welcome to fiat serfdom.

At January 17, 2011 at 2:36 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Really, now? Any idea what his name is?

At January 17, 2011 at 2:53 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Found it. The cocksucker got a $50,000 signon bonus. I never made nearly that much in my two best years as a grunt.

At January 19, 2011 at 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Massachusetts needs to stop whining about their $58 million. This is chump change for Big Dick and his band of thieves. They have raised and burned through $1 billion dollars, yes that’s with b, and have nothing to show for it other than a plant in China that is a pimple on the ass of the solar market and a share price that’s in the toilet.
If “free em all” Deval thinks he will see a single penny from these fuckers he’s dreaming.
Maybe they can discuss it at Dick em’s $10,000,000 house on Hingham harbor.

At January 19, 2011 at 12:29 PM, Blogger jurassicpork said...

Tell me about it. When the price of a stock soars, it splits, creating more shares. Last June, in order to avoid being delisted by the NASDAQ, they did the opposite and actually consolidated shares. Now Evergreen has only about a quarter of the shares they used to offer in order toartifically inflate the price of the stock. It was selling for about .80 a share before the reverse split. Back in 2008, it was selling for well over $12 a share.

Dick 'em plunged the stock price and the company in the toilet, almost 1000 people will lose their jobs and the cocksucker got to smoothly move into another boardroom of a corporation that he will surely plunge into the toilet. That, plus he'll keep collecting 100% of his salary for his executive pension.

I saw what the top executives made when I went to the compensation committee webpage. It's jaw-dropping.


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