We may not quite grow inured to the news, but we certainly grow accustomed to hearing about downsizing in the major industrial sectors and in whatever scant remnants are left in the American softer goods manufacturing world. All this continual, and continuously painful, realignment is all part of the inexorable grind of the global economy. But somehow, there are certain things I just don't think of as transportable, that I've somehow imagined would remain home grown in perpetuity.
That's until I heard about Hershey's post-Valentine's Day announcement that they're cutting 1,500 jobs - or is it 3,000? The numbers I've seen vary.
Friday's coverage in local paper, The Patriot News (Harrisburg PA), reported that a company meeting was short on details - and maybe a little long on fudging, given that workers reported that the company said they were creating jobs "elsewhere" but weren't told where "elsewhere", while at the same time the company was talking about building a Mexican plant.
...several workers said that company officials discussed plans to cut 3,000 jobs. The workers also said that the company plans to create 1,500 jobs elsewhere, but were not told where. Workers said they weren’t told where jobs would be cut or whether job cuts would come through layoffs or attrition. Employees said they were not allowed to ask questions during the meeting.
On Thursday, the company announced plans to build a plant in Mexico as part of a three-year plan to trim its work force, realign its operations and become more profitable. The company said it would close plants, downsize some plants, and expand others, but company officials did not identify those plants.
Just enough information to put everybody on edge. ("Workers said they were angry and despondent about the prospect of job cuts." No surprises there.)
Given that Hershey's Bars have always gone kind of limp and greasy in hot weather, the new South of the Border factories will either have to be ultra-air-conditioned. Or Hershey will have to add some insidious anti-melt chemical into its chocolate. And, of course, will the Hershey's Kisses be renamed "Besos"? Not to mention a rename of the Great American Chocolate Bar (although, arguably, Mexico is in Central America. The Great-er American Chocolate Bar, perhaps.)
It was interesting to read through some of the comments in the PennLive/Patriot News online forum. The usually combination of railing against corporate greed, management incompetence, union obstinacy, Wall Street fat cats.
But you read between those lines and it's all about another 3,000 American workers and their families trying to figure out how they're going to hold their existences together.
In every post I write about lay-offs I find myself adding the same boilerplate commentary: Yes this may all be inevitable. Yes this may all be a net-positive at the macro level. Yes there are some individuals who end up better off - and not just executive management and shareholders, either.
But at the micro level, at the individual level, there are hundreds of thousands (millions?) of workers who are left worse off by globalization (and the concomitant shift in economic risk - healthcare, retirement - to individuals). Now, we can just shrug this all off as economic and social Darwinism. Or assume that everything will correct itself over time.
Or we can start thinking about the kinds of adjustments we can make that will shore up the social contract, and help ensure the long term stability of the political and economic institutions that have done a pretty good job in assuring our prosperity and freedoms.