Fired after all these years

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

December 18, 2002


            Two weeks before Christmas, the largest employer in our county, a nuclear power plant, fired 120 long time employees.

Merry Christmas from your local public utility!

Many of the people who lost their jobs were my parishioners.

Almost all of them were men in their 50s. Many of them had been with the utility for 20 to 30 years.  For most it was the only employer they have ever known.

Ironically, at the very same time the power plant was firing loyal, long-time employees, its parent company posted a 7 % increase in revenue over the same time last year.

So why were they firing people? Because, they said, they needed to make themselves more competitive to attract investment.  Translated, they wanted to make themselves more attractive to Wall Street bankers.

            It is true that the utility company offered the fired employees a severance package. It amounted to two weeks pay for each year they have with the company. But in order to get this "gift" from the company, they have to sign an agreement in which they promise not to sue the company under any law, specifically including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.  That law forbids firing of older workers just because of their age. Nearly all of the people they let go are in their 50s and 60s.

            The firings have a devastating effect on the workers and their families. Good blue-collar jobs that may have paid $60,000 to $80,000 are lost. There is practically nothing else that the people with very specialized skills in running a nuclear power plant could do in our community. You can't pay the mortgage flipping burgers or working as a clerk at your local big box department store. Many will have to move. Some may loose their homes.

What could the people at the top of this utility company be thinking?  At the very same time they are firing people, the company has decided (for PR reasons) to sponsor a golf tournament. I am told that the tourney will cost the company $1 million per year.

            What are their priorities?

            What is happing in my parish is happening all over the U.S.

Companies are being run for the benefit of an executive class. The employees and the public can just go to ... well, you know.

The hard working people who actually make something (in this case, electricity) are fired, not because they have to be, but to meet some target projections given to a bunch of business school "bean counters" on Wall Street.

Could the executives who so cavalierly fired people at Christmas operate the control room of this nuclear power plant for even one hour?

            Catholic social teaching says that measure of the justice of an economy is how it treats people. It also says that companies are not run just for the sake of their top executives or their shareholders alone, but for the employees, the people who actually generate the wealth. For the last 100 years the Catholic church has said that worker's rights take precedence over the rights of capital (investment) and people are more important that money.

            In the Enron, World-Com, Arthur Anderson business age, when executives walk away with fat salaries, huge stock options, and golden parachute retirement bonuses, too many companies treat their employees as just something to be used up and discarded after 30 years of loyal service.

That is not the way to treat people. That is not what Jesus would have us do.