Belt Tightening the Old-Fashioned Way

In this new world of austerity, slashed government budgets, layoffs, and pay raises much less than the cost of living, I look back at my time with the Monsanto electronics plant in the 1980’s.

The electronics world was just spinning up and the silicon wafers we supplied to the likes of Motorola and Intel were not profitable. Demand for the discs was at a pace comfortable with the demand for the products these companies made. Cell phones, personal computers and digital cameras had yet to make the mainstream marketplace. As a result, our profit margins were cut very close.

It’s expensive making these discs. Chemicals for processing and cleaning weren’t cheap and a lot of the processing was done manually, reducing our throughput and limiting the amount of product we could sell.

Our division was consistently in the red, losing money year after year. One year, the management announced an all out effort to turn profitable. They asked each employee to sacrifice for the greater good and that included keeping a job. We were held accountable for the bottom line of the division that year, responsible for our piece of the profit and costs.

Strict measures were put into place: pay raises were frozen, every pen and pencil were accounted for. Every purchase was questioned and subject to several levels of management for approval.

No one complained.

We got it.

If the plant closed due to its inability to make money, everyone, plant manager to custodian, would lose his or her job. We took nothing for granted. We took it to heart.

The average age of the plant employee was maybe late thirties, very young by today’s standards. Many of us were just starting out in our careers and with our first homes, babies, spouses; we needed that job.  Interest rates were over ten percent for a home mortgage, which slowed the real estate market. In fact, the whole chemical industry was slowing down. The huge plants were no longer being built. The 1980’s turned out to be the calm before the electronic storm that the 1990’s would bring, forcing the chemical industry to reinvent itself.

For the next year, we did without our raises and amenities. We worked our jobs as efficiently as we could. By the end of the year, we celebrated. The division broke even. Our pay increases were released. We patted ourselves on the back.

There were no parties. There were no special awards. None were expected. We did our job. We saved our jobs. Do you think people in 2011 understand this kind of sacrifice?

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About stemzandroses

I'm an engineer and writer with a built-in need to share my nearly 40 years of experience working in a male-dominated field with the rest of the world.
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