How many times have you sat through a corporate meeting or listened to the President or CEO of a company say that to its workers or the public in general?
Have you ever been laid off or fired from a job? How do those words resonate after going through that?
I heard it plenty, having worked for one of the three major airlines. It was especially prevalent after 9/11. They were trying to make it sound like we were “safe.” But that word left the corporate lexicon after the tragic events of that day.
There were the initial layoffs, primarily among pilots, flight attendants, and ground personnel, because the public wasn’t flying. Because of that, management employees were having a field day with their flight benefits. Post-9/11 was the best time ever for space-available travel. But it wasn’t long before it became apparent that the customers weren’t returning, so hundreds of flights were pulled down.
Then, with fewer planes being flown, the vast corporate workforce began to be affected. First to go was the “low-hanging fruit,” as they liked to call them — those mostly in support positions. As the airline was smaller, its rank-and-follow needed to be also.
And before you knew it, we had filed for bankruptcy protection, the first of the three carriers to do so. That’s when the shit really hit the fan. Wave after wave of layoffs followed. Meeting rooms were well stocked with Kleenex as we were all called into meetings with our supervisors to determine our fates. Colleagues were checking in with others. “Are you safe?” they’d ask. Every call would disclose another person who, astonishingly, was no longer with “us.”
I always assumed I’d be one of the first to go, having just started with the airline in 1998. Surprisingly, I got through five of these waves unscathed. Others who had been with the company for 30+ years were dismissed.
I’m a boomer, and when our parents were in a job, they were in it for a long time or for life. In the years between 1946 and 1964, America was pretty serene. The country was building massive infrastructure projects, and most privileged white people were “moving on up” and improving their lives.