Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Memo to Kraft Employees: Courage



   A decade ago, when the New York Daily News ran my column, I would fly to Manhattan to root around for material. Taking a break from working here, I'd go work there, an irony that was not lost on me.
     "What kind of idiot," I wondered, aloud, looking up from my keyboard in a windowless office, "takes his vacation from being a newspaper columnist in one city to go be a newspaper columnist in another?"
     That would be me. We not only love our jobs, we become our jobs. Which makes sense, since we do them so much.
     To even contemplate losing those jobs is hard. It's like thinking about dying. Worse, because when you die, you're no longer here. Your woes are few. But the unemployed have lost their livelihoods — a freighted word — yet continue to live these suddenly frantic, diminished existences, dog-paddling in the frozen slurry of the jobless, desperately looking for a ladder or a rope out before they drown financially and emotionally.
     During the past decade of recession that risk is a palpable menace for many, a thing in the bushes, sometimes quiet, sometimes growling. Thousands saw the dark thing stir reading the June 29 Crain's, whose front page story is on the mass firings coming to Kraft, which is merging with H.J. Heinz next month.
     "The layoffs will be swift, proceed in waves and cut deeply," Peter Frost writes in a story that must be twisting guts among Kraft's 22,000 workers, nearly one-third of whom can expect the ax.
     Since sarcasm is so common in this business, I should stress that I am not gloating. My heart breaks for those Kraft folk, happily selling cheese and pickles and salad dressing. Headquartered in Northfield, not far from my house, I pass the headquarters all the time; it seems so sprawling and secure, like a college campus or a military base. A newspaperman expects to live a haunted existence but there's no joy in realizing those selling Jell-O are also crouched on shifting sands. Is no one safe?
     The shadow of the destroyer approaches Kraft. What does an imperiled employee do? Scan the horizon for a new job. Not a lot of sails there. Clear the decks. Cut expenses. Batten down hatches. Prepare for the storm.
     Then you wait, the low level terror of uncertainty eating at you. What to do? How to brace, mentally? Look back to the person you were at 17. What would that idealistic teen think of you now, in agony at just the thought of being cut loose from the Miracle Whip team? Gather your courage. I believe it is not the financial instability, bad as that is, so much as the blow to our identity that we fear most. To fight that fear, remember that we are many things beyond our jobs: husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. Parts of us that can't be taken away with a memo.
     You need to practice pumping yourself up in the way your job does now. When the atmosphere of your corporation is gone, you'll need to exist in your own little spacesuit of self. It can be done. Seneca has two relevant thoughts. First, do not run ahead to embrace woes. They may never come; then you're worrying about nothing. Or if they do come, then you suffer twice, first in anticipation, then in realty.
     Second, view it as a test of your mettle. Seneca asks: What's the point of being a good, strong person if you never face difficulties? Do you really believe that you are only able to cope with life when it goes well, when the paycheck ka-chings into your account and the head of the Shake 'n Bake group singles you out for praise?
      The Daily News sacked me out of the blue. They never even told me I was fired; just stopped running my column one day. I found out when puzzled readers asked where I had gone.
     It still hurt, even though I still had my regular job here to fall back on. Maybe that's my advice to Kraft employees. Start stuffing that mattress with savings, with job applications, with freelance work, with spiritual enrichment. Something to make the stone floor less hard when you hit it. Seneca be damned, I've been preparing too. At least I've come up with a line.
     When a flailing ax gets to me again someday, I plan to smile enigmatically and say, "Now I am rich in time."


51 comments:

  1. My sister used to work at Kraft.
    They went & brought in hundreds from India as contractors, told their employees to train them, then laid off those employees & sent the Indians back home as the IT dept, where they barely knew what they were doing. They were the employee's help desk, but the employees called them the helpless desk. There were several times I ended up doing the tech support for my sister because India hadn't the faintest idea what to do, that's if they even understood the people in Northfield, Glenview & New Jersey.
    There's also a replica of JL Kraft's cheese wagon at Kraft, I wonder what will become of that..

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  2. Steel worker, inventory clerk, fulfillment manager for a publishing company, and the list goes on.
    Industries die or move. Technologies replace people. Economies shift and fluctuate. The 1960's promise of technology allowing more leisure and a better lifestyle forgot the profit motive would trump freeing men from wage slavery.
    We have to keep adapting, but also remember what is important. I don't think I'll regret what I didn't have as much as I'll regret not taking time to enjoy the beauty of life and those who I love and who love me.

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  3. Love that last line. Hope you never have to use it.

    John

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    1. Neil's guy Seneca wrote "It is not the man who has too little but the one who craves more who is poor."

      Tom Evans

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  4. Paul, easier said then done for many on just saying keep adapting.

    There is no deterrent for companies to outsource and yes, customer service in India or other such parts is awful. Profits is all that's cared about. But rarely do the top levels of management personnel slash their salaries and perks.

    People used to blame unions but even without union wages or just min. wage, who can compete with working for a dollar or day or such? It's like when immigrants here in the old days use to lower wages and work for less, but one would expect better today or more govt protection from greedy corps.

    Neil, don't forget to tell them to apply for unemployment. Amazing how conservs think you can def. find a job in a few short weeks and don't need an extension. Liberal pols are more understanding about that.

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    1. Well not everyone is fortunate enough to say "I'm rich in time" now.

      Who is that man on the top? some corp exec. poser on a pedestal?

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    2. Originaly there was a final line: "Its a lie, but I'm sticking with it." But I cut it, and decided to go with straight bluster.

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    3. I'm guessing the photo is a Man In The Gray Flannel Suit reference.

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    4. okay, must have missed that

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  5. My cousin is Kraft's head corporate nurse. I hope her job is secure. She's probably treating lots of anxiety cases right now.

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    1. An expert on outsourcing spoke to us. The one job that can't be outsourced he said is that of nurses.

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    2. and nurses are always in demand

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  6. I can't bring myself to give this post the fisking I think it deserves (I literally felt ill at the "Team Miracle Whip" remark). Instead in the spirit of offering something helpful (and being arrogant enough to believe that this is indeed helpful), I would add to the anti-Seneca advice: as mentally painful as it can be, force yourself to envision the worst beyond the financial preparations: spend some of your precious time (I mean that with utter sincerity and not an iota of snark) being a lifelong vocational learner. As Thomas Friedman says, "Average is Over." Develop amorphous skills (you never know when the difference in getting a job is proficiency with Microsoft Office). Scan the job boards to see what skills people are looking for and if you are a college grad get in touch with your school's alumni services. Hardest of all for me, try to develop your outside-the-office network (I know you all will find that hard to believe given what a sunny person I am). Even when times are good at work, act like your life depends on doing at least some of these things. Then when the terror of bad news first rears its ugly head, you have a mental lifeline to reach for (and a practical one at that). And especially for people at Kraft or others in that situation, don't forget how needed you are: the world is an ugly place, your honest work created quiet miracles at Kraft and IS needed elsewhere.

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    1. A-not-A...."your honest work created quiet miracles at Kraft....". Except for Miracle Whip, of course :) Couldn't resist that one, don't care for it at all myself. Real mayo or no mayo.

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    2. The fisking it deserves? Come on, ease up, and if reading Miracle Whip team literally made you feel ill, you really need to get outside more. Sorry for the snark ANA, but seriously, just read sometimes.

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    3. What does fisking even mean? And your suggestions are simplistic, A/N/A and easier said then done. Cut the preaching. You aren't as wise as you think.

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    4. Sandy - I'm about to blow whatever cred I have with you by admitting to liking Miracle Whip (but I like the mayo too). I will say their attempts to portray Miracle Whip fans as some sort of cullinary rebels/bad boys/girls was going way too far!

      Nikki - oh, I'll accept whatever snark you feel is appropriate! Believe it or not I asked a much less cynical friend for their take on this column to make sure I wasn't missing something and thus didn't comment right away. They had a similar reaction - that it's your 17 year old self mocking your current job. It fits with other "cute" characterization of the Kraft employees ("those selling Jell-O" / "happily selling cheese and pickles and salad dressing"). And that 17 year old presumably would have a harder time mocking the job of crusading journalist at a big city newspaper (I may be projecting here: when I was a little younger than that I wanted to be Rossi on Lou Grant). Maybe it's cute in almost any other context, but the context here felt like a funeral. Anyway, it was both an honest reaction and I really should get outside more.

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    5. True, NS must stop talking about the end of newspapers every few weeks or woe is me.

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    6. But that humor is part of the writer and his style, not a bad thing. Yes, A-N-A do get out more and please revisit yesterdays main column for some later comments.

      You know the old adage, " if you have nothing good to say..."

      and by the way, you may be clever sometimes, but I think you are also an obsessed nut who is anal in his strive for perfection

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    7. you try too hard to prove a point, Anon not anon

      why is that? your smugness and arrogance hides some insecurity

      don't you ever take a vacation?

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    8. I think ANA works for the CIA.

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    9. What a know it all you are, ANA. Do you actually have friends? Hard to believe-now go look in the mirror and talk to yourself.

      I bet a female could beat you up.

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    10. I know at least one who'd like to try.

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    11. For someone who purports to find value in the saying "if you have nothing good/nice to say, say nothing," you sure are saying a lot. Just sayin'. ;)

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    12. ANA, here's proof that different people have different takes on the same article. I saw it not as the 17 yr old mocking the job but the reaction to losing the job. Someone's got to make and sell Jell-O. Personally, I'm doing the gig I knew I was going to be doing at 17, but if you had told me where I would be living and doing said gig now, I'd have laughed and said you're insane. 17 yr old selves aren't very good fortune tellers.

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    13. oh shut up, Coey, you and your holier than thou self,always correcting, my words are a reaction, I didn't start it

      well said, Nikki

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    14. In A-N-A's defense, at least he broke the monotony of his perspective by offering up the word "fisking," which I had never heard before. I'm not sure I'll ever use it—it feels soiled, by association—but I enjoyed learning it. For the record, it wasn't my favorite column—I couldn't read it in today's paper. That said, A-N-A's "I-have-criticisms-but-I'm-too-consumed-by-lself-satisfied-languour-to-actually-articulate-them" tone was too perfect.

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    15. Anon, if you can read over your comments, here and in many other comment sections, and say that it is I who has a tendency to correct, criticize, insult, and issue orders to others, well, I can only say I respectfully disagree.

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    16. you never mind your own business on here , coey, if someone is talking to another, you aren't there guardian

      and you are always trying to brown nose certain male posters here

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    17. NS, please don't judge if your column is a good one or not, based on that asshole's, ANA's opinion.

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    18. I wasn't talking to you, beeyotch Coey.

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    19. Nor was A-N-A talking to you.

      I don't want to bring down the level of discourse here any further, so feel free to get in one last zinger, but I'm done for the evening.

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    20. NS - hope this isn't too belated, but touché! That one is deserved.

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  7. wise words, ANA

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  8. Now they have mayo with olive oil flavor. But sorry, I prefer Hellman's to any other mayo brand. And true, Sandy, miracle whip is icky.

    I remember when Kraft had bought out Nabisco, some time back and that changed hands again.

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    1. I like Hellman's best also. I tried the olive oil mayo, not bad.

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    2. It's ironic when some sandwich places want to put mayo on Italian salami's. That's a no no.

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    3. make that salami, not salami's

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  9. It's amusing this comment thread evolved into a contest between Miracle Whip and mayonnaise. It's a personal preference, not life or death over which is best. My kids always prefer MW. By the way, it's salad dressing. not in the category of mayonnaise.

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    1. We used to put it on sandwiches when I was growing up. My husband is firmly on the anti-Miracle Whip side, and I'm fine with either, so Hellman's it is at our house.

      Maybe Kraft should start a blog.

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    2. I always wondered, who the hell would put that on their salad in this day and age?

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    3. FYI:
      Why Miracle Whip isn't mayo: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that anything labeled "mayonnaise" contain a minimum of 65 percent vegetable oil by weight. And though Kraft keeps Miracle Whip's exact oil content a secret, the company confirms that it is too low to meet the mayo standard.

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    4. Next up: Cool Whip vs. whipped cream.

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    5. Cool whip is awful. It's all artificial. No contest there.

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  10. Replies
    1. about the kraft blog, it might get a lot of hits at that

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  11. What lovely daffodils. If I'm wrong on the flower, I'm sure that Coey will correct me.

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    1. I'll take this one. That's a type of day lily, and it looks like a forsythia bush around it. It is a lovely flower.

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    2. Lilies from our front garden this morning. I thought they were particularly striking this year.

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  12. I was laid off from Kraft over 10 years ago when my dept was moved to Pennsylvania. I was there almost 30 years but it was cheaper to have our dept in the boonies of PA with their cheap labor. Why pay someone 90k a year when they can find someone there to do it for 28k? Kraft used to be a wonderful company. In 1989 Philip Morris tobacco took Kraft in a hostile takeover. They needed ammo for all of the upcoming tobacco lawsuits they knew they would lose and needed the assets to pay for it. They totally ruined Kraft. They already had purchased Oscar Mayer and General Foods so they merged all of the companies together. It didn’t turn out for the best for all 3 companies. After they sucked all the life out of all of them they spun Kraft off a few years ago as Philip Morris was done with them. Now Kraft is so weakened that they were open for a takeover by Heinz. Now many of my friends and former co-workers are going to lose their jobs. I don’t know… I can’t see eating Kraft Macaroni and ketchup.

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Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.