USG Corp, YOU Should be “Occupied!” Shame On You!

USG Corp.  In case anyone doesn’t know what USG stands for it stands for United States Gypsum.  Guess what UNITED STATES Gypsum is doing?

This company, with UNITED STATES in its name, is shutting down all its financial hubs and OUTSOURCING all the accounts payable jobs as well as IT jobs.

I found this out today from a friend who will be affected by this.  In her office, which will be open (for some employees) through April (gotta get that year end closing done!) the following people will be so adversely affected by this that it may destroy them, financially:

A  54 year old woman with a husband on disability who has worked there for the past 8-9 years.

A 53 year old woman who has worked there for most of her adult life.

A 44 year old woman who is a single mom of two, who currently can’t make ends meet on the salary they pay her,  lives in subsidized housing and has been known to get food for herself and her kids from the local food pantry and who has a child with ongoing healthcare needs.

Today I was told that the employees were called into a meeting where they were told the office would be closing, as would all the financial hubs and then it was explained to them that their jobs would eventually be “outsourced.”  We’ll get to that in a bit.  Here’s the icing on the cake:   There will be a “stay” package given to certain employees so that they can keep their jobs through the closing of the hub.  When the director was asked how it will be determined who will get a “stay” package the reply that was given was this:

“I’m  not going to think about that until I have to.”

Excuse me?  WTF??  This is corporate America.  They have ALREADY chosen who will get the “stay” package and if it were legal to do so, I’d list the names here.  I know who will get it.  I know, because I worked in that office and I know the politics of it. I know the favoritism that goes on and I know how terribly ineffective the current director is.  He’s a nice enough guy, but a truly bad manager.

The employees were told that they would all get “severance” packages but when the local HR representative was questioned as to what those packages would be, he did what ALL good little corporate HR minions do:  He hedged and said “we’re not sure yet.”  Of COURSE they’re sure.  They’ve known for months they were going to do this, and if it wasn’t known at mid-level it has certainly been in the works at the top levels.

Now, let’s talk about the piece that chaps my other butt cheek.  “Outsourcing.”

Okay, as a rule, in America, when someone hears “outsource” they think of India, Mexico, or the Philippines.  So when the question was asked where the jobs would be outsourced, the answer was, again, in good minion-like fashion:  “We haven’t determined that yet.  We’re exploring several different sources.”  Or something like that.  I put it in quotes, but I got it second-hand.  I wasn’t actually in the meeting.

It’s possible that with the accounting portion of it, the term “outsource” means they will funnel the work to an American company that provides contract labor, either in a call center-type environment, or it will be sourced to telecommuting temporary/contract employees.  It could also mean that all accounting personnel will be laid off, the work will all go to Chicago and temps will be hired to do it, at a very low rate of pay and with no benefits.

OR, it could mean they will send it all out of our country, this company with UNITED STATES in its name, will add to our already failing economy by stealing jobs from Americans and giving them to people in other countries because they’ll work for so much less money.  That will ensure that Bill Foote and his minions continue receiving their “competitive compensation” packages. (see below)

UNITED STATES GYPSUM, I ask you this:

How many at your executive level even considered taking a pay cut or giving up returns on options so that a single mom with two kids, a woman whose husband is on disability and a woman who has given most of her adult life to YOU can keep their jobs, their sanity, their homes, their kids in braces, food on their tables, their health insurance, their car insurance?  How many of you even gave a single thought to what this would do to those who truly NEED every paltry penny you’ve paid them?

I know how paltry those pennies are, because I used to work for you.  I know that you barely pay a living wage in the city within which I live.

This is from an article written in 2007, as USG was recovering from their “asbestos” issue which sent them into Chapter 11.  Here’s the link so you can read the entire thing, but this gem truly astounded me, since the company was emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy (how many were laid off while this was happening?).  Gee, if I went into bankruptcy, I doubt I’d emerge with a “competitive compensation” package.

“USG’s executive officers received non-qualified option grants that vest at a rate of 20% per year and restricted stock units that vest at 25% per year.  During bankruptcy, management had the certainty of cash.  Options they owned could have been underwater.  On the other hand, with a cash plan, they missed out on appreciation, Jarrett explains.  Another option grant was made in March, 2007 as part of the new long term incentive plan, which also included grants of restricted-stock units and performance shares.  Fox adds, ‘We were trying to establish competitive compensation, but to have the shareholders look at it and say, ‘”this is fair.  They’ve delivered value for the shareholders.”‘ 

“Another issue arose when the committee decided to give special cash awards to Foote and his two top lieutenants, CFO Rick Fleming and general counsel Stan Ferguson, for their leadership during the Chapter 11 proceedings.  Foote was given $1 million, and Fleming and Ferguson each earned $500,000.  “They all did both jobs — restructuring and running the business,” explains Jarrett.  The board felt they deserved to be rewarded.  But “we knew this was going to be in our disclosure documents. We asked ourselves, ‘Can it stand up to the shareholders reading it?'” The plan was detailed in the March 2007 proxy and did not generate any controversy among shareholders.”  

Excuse me?  They’ve delivered value for the shareholders?  Oh, okay.  That’s all that matters.  They get rewarded for delivering value to the shareholders.  WHAT FREAKING VALUE DID THEY DELIVER TO THEIR EMPLOYEES????

Now, take a look at this.  This is Bill Foote’s (Chairman of the Board for USG)  total compensation for the year 2009!!!   This came from here.  Take a gander at it.  Oh, poor guy.  He didn’t get a bonus.  Gosh.  I bet that was used as a pity tool for lack of bonuses that year.  “Bill Foote didn’t even get a bonus.”

Compensation for 2009

Salary $1,150,000.00
Bonus $0.00
Restricted stock awards $2,163,161.00
All other compensation $64,504.00
Option awards $ $1,088,858.00
Non-equity incentive plan compensation $782,000.00
Change in pension value and nonqualified deferred compensation earnings $1,886,957.00
Total Compensation $7,135,480.00

His total compensation two years ago as our economy was hitting the skids, was more than 200 times that of the average employee at one of the financial hubs.  You know – the employees who process all those payables and receivables that balance in such a way as to provide him this ENORMOUS AND UNNECESSARY compensation.

I did a quick calculation based on a pay rate that I believe to be an average for the office where my friend works, and that includes the two management people and the “HR” person (who isn’t the local HR representative.)  I chose $40,000.  Yes, people, I know that many in that office make much less than this amount but I know at least one who makes a hell of a lot more.

0.04% of Bill Foote’s total compensation package in 2009 could have paid the salaries for that office for all employees for a full year.

Bill Foote, why are you allowing this to happen?

Why aren’t you standing for the UNITED STATES that is in your company name and sacrificing so that YOUR people can keep their jobs??

Why are you, the chairman of the board for UNITED STATES Gypsum, allowing jobs to be outsourced?

Why are you allowing a single mom with two children who you already pay so little that she has to get food from a free food pantry to be “downsized?”

Why are you allowing a 54 year old woman with a disabled husband to be “downsized?”

Why are YOU and YOUR EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE not sacrificing to HELP these people instead of kicking them out of the way as though they are some sort of garbage in the way of your (most likely) Italian-shod feet?

I know why you are doing this.  You live in a luxury mansion, with all the coolest, latest gizmos and gadgets, you have a wife who expects to wear designer clothing and have luxury vacations, your children are probably in private schools, your food is the best your money can buy, you must pay your interior designer, you must pay your gardener, housekeeper, and let’s not forget that you must pay for your luxury automobiles…oh wait.  I’ll bet the company pays for those.  And for the insurance on them.

Bill Foote, I worked for you.  For YOU, because YOU represent USG.  I was terminated in February, 2011.  I cannot find work.  I’ve had to reinvent myself.  I’m having to move from my lovely quaint neighborhood into a low-rent district 100 miles away so I can afford to have a roof over my head.  Yet, I’m one of the fortunate ones.  I don’t have any other mouths to feed.  I am not a single mom with two children.  I have a skill set outside of what I did for your company.  I don’t have a child with special health-care needs.  I don’t have a disabled husband.  I just have two cats.  I’m fortunate.

Hey Bill, do you own an iPhone?  An iPad?  How much did you pay for your last Gitman Brothers shirt?  Or was it Brooks Brothers?  Or maybe something even more expensive.  How much did you pay for your last golf sweater?  Know how much I paid for my last sweater?  $2.50 and I bought it at Goodwill.  How about your Allan Edmonds shoes?  Maybe you don’t wear Allan Edmonds.  Maybe they’re just too “pedestrian” for you at more than $300 a pair.

Hey Bill, since your company terminated me without severance, guess how much money I have left every month to eat, while living on unemployment?  $77.  I bet you spend that on lunch.

Hey Bill, how the hell do you expect these people you are “downsizing” to take care of themselves and their families at even a basic level?  Oh wait, I forgot.  They’re not people.  They’re numbers.  Do you know their names?  Nope.  You don’t want to know their names because that would make it personal.  Want to know who you’re ruining?  Post here with your email and I’ll email you the names of the people in that office who will suffer most from your greed.

Hey Bill, before you lay all these people off, before you spend another penny of the money your employees earned for you, take a month and live on $1,356.  Feed your family on it, pay all your bills on it.  Have tons of fun on it and then report back to me and tell me how well you did, because that is precisely the amount the Transaction Associates in the hub in my city will get for unemployment benefits.

Hey Bill, maybe someone needs to Occupy USG.  Whatcha think?  You and your executive minions are a disgrace to this country.  USG does not deserve to have the words UNITED STATES in its name.

Don’t tell me about all your philanthropy.  I know all about corporate executive philanthropy.  It’s bogus.  Now, were you to do it anonymously, and from your own pocket in figures that would make a difference in the lives of those people you are “downsizing” I might have some respect for you.  You won’t do it.

Hey Bill!  Be a REAL leader, step out and make a difference instead of allowing your sense of entitlement to tell you that you deserve more than $7 million a year in compensation.

Bill, be a warrior!  Have courage, man.  Step up to the plate, make a significant sacrifice yourself and then tell your executives that they must also do it, to set an example.  Think of the domino effect that could have!  Think of it – your name in NEON:  Bill Foote, Compassionate and Humanitarian Executive Saves Employees At His Own Expense!  

All it takes is one REAL leader, Bill.  Just one.  Are you that leader?

Bill, in this country, it’s unheard of for the Chairman of the Board of a major American corporation to personally extend a helping hand to his employees, to those employees from which so bloody much loyalty and hard work is demanded, to those employees who are told how oh-so-important they are…until they’re not, and to those employees whose loyalty and hard work is repaid with a big fat ZERO.  Bill, what’s $7 million minus zero?  That’s what you’ll earn this year.  What’s 11 people with families minus jobs?  Can you do that math?

It seems your $7 million plus is way more important than the survival of the average American families who may be ruined by your latest decision.  Oh, it wasn’t YOUR decision?  Oh yes it was, because it could not have happened without your knowledge and without you signing off on it.   Go ahead, blame it on the board members.  It was THEM.  They voted to do this.  Oh, it was the shareholders.  Ahh, that makes all the difference.  NOT.  Be accountable, Mr. Chairman.

You could have prevented it, but instead you chose to ruin those less fortunate than yourself.  Well, Mr. Chairman, all I have left to say is this:  As ye sow, so shall ye reap.  Biblical justice is sometimes a fine thing to watch.  No, that’s not a threat, so don’t go running for your battalion of corporate attorneys.  It’s simply the way of life.  You get what you give.  You may not get it tomorrow or next year, but you will get it.  It doesn’t come in an in-kind form, either.  The universe has a sense of justice and humor and it does provide balance.  If you get with it and do the right thing; if you do the moral thing, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you did right.  That’s worth way more than $7 million a year, don’t you think?

You think you’re doing this for the good of the company?  Nah.  You did this for yourself.  There was another way.  You and your board chose the low road and that is the path most traveled and most destructive.  That path is fairly congested these days.


		
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It’s Neither Optimism Nor Pessimism; It’s Reality

Earlier today, I emailed a friend with some of my thoughts from this post.  It was that email and her reaction that inspired the post.  I’d mentioned the portions about what I’d read on Craigslist and how heartbreaking I found it to be.  Her reply was to tell me, sarcastically, how optimistic I was being and then she went on to say that she did agree that we were heading for a depression.

First let me state that my email was neither optimistic nor pessimistic.  It wasn’t negative or positive.  It was merely the reality of what is going on right now, all over this country.  Her response shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.  I’ve known her for more than a decade and found her to be firmly grounded in reality.

I think the reason there has been such a glut of “reality” tv shows about those in truly unfortunate situations (think Hoarders) is that it enables us to deflect attention from the reality of our individual situations.  We can look at a show like Hoarders and pat ourselves on the back that while we may be messy and somewhat of a pack-rat, at least we’re not that bad.

I think my friend’s reply to my email hides her very real and present fear that it could be her.  It may well be her, if things continue the way they’re going.  No one wants to confront that kind of fear, so they shove it into denial; they become sarcastic, and sometimes they get blatantly angry.

Sarcasm can be an extremely good smokescreen for anger.  Generally, when one replies in a sarcastic manner, what they really want to say (because they don’t like what you’re saying) is “will you shut up already???” It’s easier and more socially acceptable for us to display anger than it is to display fear, just as it’s easier for us to cast about attempting to find a scapegoat for our situations rather than own any portion of accountability that is ours.

I’m here to tell you, right smack in your face, that I’m very much afraid.  I don’t allow that fear to govern me, but I am not ashamed to admit it.  I do my best to see the positive in things – sometimes so much so that I’m a bit like Pollyanna.  I am an idealist at heart, but I’ve learned not to allow my heart to rule my actions.   When I say I’m heartbroken by some of what I’ve read lately, it’s true.  I’m also realistic about it.  I can’t get mired in that.  I can’t allow someone else’s situation to govern the way I think and feel about my own situation.

I made a statement to a family member recently to the effect that if I’d listened to the parental unit when I was a teen, if I had done things their way instead of thinking I knew better, I wouldn’t be in the situation I’m in right now.  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  The reality of my situation is that what has happened to me may well have happened whether I’d listened to Mom and Dad or not, all those years ago.  The reality of my situation is this:

In the past two years I have been downsized, found a job, moved out of state for that job, downsized before I could start my new job, found myself unemployed for 3 months during which time I was uninsured and had to have emergency surgery, found a job, got transferred to where I live now because the office in the state where I had the job, announced, a week after hiring me, that it was closing, offered me a transfer,  so I moved 450 miles, and one year later I’m downsized again.   Is any of this my fault?  No.  Does it matter whose fault it is?  No.

What matters is that I am left holding the bag, and I’m actually grateful that I have a bag to hold.  That means I’m alive.  Being alive means I have options.  Sure, some of them aren’t all that palatable, but I’ve choked down worse meals.  So have you.  I’ve also learned that you can make a mighty tasty meal from what’s in your kitchen already if you learn how to cook.

I have been on unemployment since February of 2011.  I just got a 48 week extension, and if I still don’t have work at the end of that period, I may qualify for something…or I may not.  I’m afraid.  That fear has driven me to downsize my life.  I’m moving almost 100 miles to an area in-state, that has a lower cost of living so I can lower my living expenses.  Once I make this move, my budget will have to squeeze out $700 less than it is squeezing now.  That money will provide me breathing room, and if I’m scrupulously frugal, I will be able to save that money.  That’s $8,400 over 12 months.  That’s a lot of money.

During the next few months, I’m using my fear as a motivator.  I am going to position myself so that I can make a living doing what I do best and that is through creating and teaching.  I have already investigated the probability of becoming an after-school educator in the arts for a local co-op gallery in my new town that provides after-school programs and summer art camps.  I will become a part of the co-op so that I can have space to work and sell my creations.  I’m a silversmith and I make jewelry.  I teach jewelry-making, and I also teach just about any other kind of imaginative art process.  So, at 50, I’m reinventing myself.

I’m also not greedy, and I know that an item is only worth what the next person will pay for it.  That’s essential for everyone to keep in mind.  Don’t buy into the current media fad for antiques and junktiques; for turning shabby to shabby chic and thinking you will be able to then sell it for top dollar.  Those people aren’t making their money from their products – they’re making their money from their cable and network TV shows.  I know a lot of people all over this country, and I know of only ONE couple who makes their living buying storage lockers.

If you’re crafty, and can learn to market yourself well online, there may be a niche for you, especially if you have an unusual product that is priced to sell and it is something you can produce quickly.  Of course, if what The Web Bot Project says has any validity to it, we may not have access to electronic anything from December 2012 to May 2013.   Ahem.  It also predicted a huge earthquake for Vancouver in 2008 that never happened. If the Mayans have anything to do with it, we’re all going to die on December 21, 2012.  Or maybe they just didn’t feel the need to extend their calendar any farther.  If the Hopi Tribe is right, we’re going to be hit by a blue star…at some point.  That’s the only REALITY to any of the 2012 mumbo jumbo out there.  Yup, we will be hit by something at some point, but scientists predict that it will be thousands of years before that happens and I think I’ll have shuffled off this mortal coil by then.

This isn’t about Armageddon or the end of the world.  It is, however, about the end of the world as we have known it for the past few decades. 

I would advise everyone to take time to take stock of what skills they have outside of their job, and to improve upon those skills as quickly as they can.  If you are a woodworker who can’t find the time to “indulge” your craft, find the time.  If you are an at-home carpenter, get your skill set up there so you can sell your skills if need be.  If you crochet, knit, sew, or do any handcraft, the time might be coming when you may need to fall back on those skills to put food on your table.

I’m not being alarmist.  It’s happening all over the place.  Don’t ever think your company can’t do without you because they can and will do without you if the executive committee sees their bonus pool shrinking.  You will be gone and your job will be farmed out to three other people who are already doing the work of two or three people.

Don’t function under the assumption that you will be downsized with some sort of package, either.  Unless you are downsized through attrition, or are at an executive level, the odds are very good you will get two to six weeks pay and an offer to keep your health insurance through COBRA.

Do you know how much COBRA will cost you?  If you have a family it could be more than your monthly mortgage.  I am not being alarmist or pessimistic.  I’m being real.  Corporate America demands loyalty from its employees but the return on that loyalty is…add it up…a big, fat, glaring ZERO.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

I hear people talk all the time about how “good” their company has been to them, allowing them to take paid time because a family member was sick, or paying them for sick days after they used up all they had to tend to sick children, etc.  Do not ever believe that the company with which you are currently employed will sacrifice or has sacrificed anything for you.

Function under the realistic assumption that the corporate executives at your company will get what their avarice tells them is their due and you will pay the price.  They do not care about you.  That is the reality.

Find a way to earn money outside of what you currently do as a job.  Multi-level marketing is not the answer, so please don’t fall for any of those schemes.  Think about your passion.  What do you truly LOVE?  Find that passion and turn it into something that will put food on your table if you find yourself without a job.

Stop using credit for anything.  Buy your clothes at thrift stores.  Recycle, repurpose, reinvent.  Be real about what is going on.  Find your long-dormant survival skills and hone them. Use the coupons in the newspaper and match them to sales at grocery stores. Get rid of any elitism you may have about material goods because it will be your undoing.

If you own a gas-guzzler, sell it.  Trade it on something more economical.  Eat before you go to the grocery store and don’t go unless you have a list.  Don’t vary from that list.  Plan your menus and shop accordingly. Learn some DIY skills.  Learn to barter.

If you don’t start thinking about doing these things, and then DOING them, you may find yourself in a nosedive you can’t pull out of.

It’s all well and good to sing “Tomorrow” (there’s an earworm for you!) and talk yourself into believing that the sun really WILL come up tomorrow.  Usually the sun does come up, but sometimes tomorrow is a very long way off.  I believe America’s tomorrow will come, but it won’t be what we normally think of as tomorrow. Tomorrow, for us, is going to be quite a bit longer than 24 hours.

Nope, not being pessimistic.  Not being optimistic. Simply being real.