Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reality Check

My 74 year old mother retired from a very large chemical company a decade ago but continued to work for them as a contractor. The pay was very good in exchange for her specialist type job which is inventory and reconciling invoices and troubleshooting problems concerning shipments and warehouses. This additional income has enabled my mother to go on nice vacations every year, usually Europe, and fulfill her lifelong dream of travelling. She wants to do it while she still feels good and is relatively free of aches, pains and illness.

Yesterday, Mom's entire department (including contractors) were told that their jobs will be gone come the 3rd quarter (June of 2007). The company is outsourcing the customer service department (which she is associated with) to another country - India, I think. The projected move is believed to be a disaster in the making.

My mother's idea of a disaster right now is believing her extra income allowing her trips and other excursions is gone. Will she be able to find a temp job elsewhere that pays as well as this one? The agency that handles Mom's association with the company told her that customer service positions are always in demand and there are never enough candidates to fill the position. However, the kind of positions they are talking about are, Mom believes, the ones that pay between $9-13 dollars an hour. That's a lot, lot less than what Mom made. I have told Mom she can do compile information on her own about companies in the area and their "traffic" to see if there are opportunities to hire herself out there at a higher rate than the agency might get.

There is also the possibility that someone Mom knows and has worked with at this company will find a place for her.

Mom is nowhere ready to give up working. She loves what she does and she loves the income that affords her travelling expenses. Mom's biggest dream is to go to China. Basic flights to the Orient start at $1400 round trip but if you want to still have feeling in your legs after the 21-24 hour flight, you want to upgrade and have more comfortable accomodations. That probably runs $2500 for a roundtrip ticket. The very nice seats go for $5,000 at least.

In spite of all the possibilities, Mom can't feel anything but sadness right now which is understandable. She has strong ties to the company - spanning over three decades - friends there and it's difficult for her to think about that not being a part of her everyday life anymore. So many of her friends who still work at the company and those who retired showed up for my father's funeral and she was very touched by that. These co-workers have meant a lot to her.

Mom is very aware of how lucky she has been. She went back into the workforce after my brother and I were in school. Well-read, knowledgeable about current affairs and quick-witted, it was not a surprise that she got high marks from all her supervisors over the years. The return to work made it possible for her to now enjoy money she didn't have before. She certainly didn't have any of it growing up - just the bare essentials. There are plenty of people worse off than my mother.

But she asks for little. The one thing she loves to do is travel. She does not pour money into much else. The one thing she loves to do and finally has been able to do might be out of her reach and that's a depressing thought. Day after day in spite of having arthritis and taking medication that makes her tired, Mom puts in an 8 hour day, five days a week. She enjoys the work, as I said earlier, but knowing there would be grand things to see on a splendid vacation was a big motivator. I only hope for her sake that other opportunities came to be. She was laid off once before years ago and was picked back up in another department within a week of her departure. Let's hope for that again.

Mom does know that company's reach out to older workers (as in over 65) for their reliability and experience. This would be, of course, as a contractor. She is hoping this will really happen. Right now, the bad news is still fresh and the fear of not knowing what is going to happen is hard to shake off.

And today very important elections are being held. Can anyone of them influence the millionaires who run companies to not take away jobs from loyal workers and outsource them to other countries? Can we afford to have immigrants come into this country when we cannot even keep jobs for loyal native workers? These are questions to ask. They are hard to answer. Everyone has the right to pursue a dream and a better way to live.

My mother deserves a chance to live out the golden years as she wishes and remain active, chasing after nice vacations or whatever pleases her. What can any of these politicians do for folks like my mother? I grew up in a middle class home but my parents still did without little extras for themselves to ensure my brother and I had advantages they did not. This included college. They insisted we go to college and I'm glad they did. But in doing so, they could not afford to go on many fun trips and do the occasional expensive thing.

Now my mother sees her continued opportunities slipping away with fickle company decisions who make the workers pay through the nose for the bigger, more disasterious mistakes they made causing the company's management to scramble to cut out this and that to find solvency.

And it doesn't matter who gets in the way or what dreams are killed in the process.

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