A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 92

A “works council” in Britain.

Friday,  June 12

It has been over six months since I’ve taken our car in for servicing. So even though it has traveled only a little over two thousand miles since the last oil change, I figure that the car is probably due. In addition, I just received a notice from Subaru that there has been a “safety recall”: Our vehicle “may be equipped with a low-pressure fuel pump assembled with an impeller that may become deformed.” The car could stall out “increasing the risk of a crash.” 

No one wants that. So I called the dealer to make an appointment. In the process, I learned that the service manager that I have dealt with for several years was “no longer with us.” Wha’ happened? The woman I spoke with disclaimed any knowledge (as I suspect she was told to say). The dealership is open, in fact she said, despite the lockdown, they had never closed. Nonetheless, they had been compelled to let several people go.

So in other words, the Riverhead Suburu dealer had taken advantage of the lockdown and coronavirus crisis to lay off a bunch of longtime employees. 

This is likely the norm across corporate America. Never let a good crisis go to waste. Dump ‘em, and the V-shaped recovery of Trumpian fantasy will be hastened.

Only it won’t be. High unemployment and forced retirement means lower consumer spending and a longer recession. What’s good or even necessary for individual employers is not likely to be good for the country as a whole.

Dumping workers is not so easily done everywhere. “Leaders of multinationals need to use all their skills as negotiators, not just their checkbooks, when planning layoffs in the European Union (EU),” according to HR Magazine.

Since 1997, French courts have required companies to lay out “social plans” and may well deem these inadequate if a court disapproves of the time frame for layoffs, the rationale for a reduction in force, or the plans for worker retraining. It is not enough just to pay severance. Nor can companies expect to dictate terms: They must approach worker representatives with a willingness to listen to proposed alternative arrangements.

Negotiations over layoffs are typically long and hard in Spain, where the magazine notes that loss of a job carries significant social stigma. In Britain, many companies must inform and consult with works councils (a set of worker representatives) and with individual affected workers as well. Germany also requires such consultation, and every employer with five or more employees is entitled to have a works council.

Here, of course, in the land of the free, companies can do basically whatever they please. Employers have the right to fire “at will” so long as there is no union, in which case a company generally must demonstrate “just cause” for worker termination. But union membership is at an all time low, now running around 10%.

Dinner: Penne with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts, along with a green salad.

Entertainment: Icelandic film A White, White Day.