#131 – Dick Bernard: Merry Christmas

UPDATE Dec. 18, 2009: We now know much more than we did three days ago. Were this a place with a union (it isn’t) I would without hesitation advise a grievance on wrongful termination. Most likely, though, our friend would never grieve: her gender, race and culture would cause her to not fight the issues.
OK. So, I don’t know all the facts. I don’t even know the story, first hand.
Within the last few hours my spouse, Cathy, said “guess what”. She’d just learned that her friend – let’s call her Annette – had just lost her job at a bank.
She’s been fired.
Cathy has known Annette for many years. They met when they were working part-time second jobs at the warehouse for a major national retail chain. They were the ones who first looked at and dealt with the stuff customers would soon be buying as, say, Christmas presents. Quite often it was high-end stuff. They’d make sure that what had been ordered was actually in the shipping crate and undamaged, that sort of thing. Very low wages, but it took the edge off too little income from their day jobs.
They became, and remain, very good friends.
Annette was an immigrant from an English-speaking Caribbean island, one of those desirable high-end tourist destinations. She’s black, with a still interesting accent. Oh yes, a U.S. citizen for many years. I’d guess she’s somewhere in her 50s, now. All the time I’ve known her she’s been single, divorced, with one son who often has tested her abundant sense of humor and optimism but who now seems, more or less anyway, to have weathered the storms of growing up. He lives out east somewhere, a father, divorced.
She has a particular talent, Annette does. She had an unusual ability to count, and account for, money. She did this for a long while for a big corporation downtown, barely reaching $10 an hour. The particular demands of her job didn’t allow her to continue at it. Her department was moved to a suburb, and she had no way of getting there because she didn’t have reliable transportation, and the new location wasn’t on a bus line. So she had to look for something else.
She found a position in a branch of a major bank – one of those you’ve heard about in the TARP conversations. She was good there, too. It was in a rough neighborhood. Been there several years now. She didn’t have a car, thus needed to take a bus to work. Once she was hit by a car in the crosswalk heading to the bus stop. Required after hour meetings were a problem for her. If they weren’t over by a certain time, she’d miss her bus, and have to wait for the next one. But she couldn’t leave the meetings.
As I said, her bank branch was in a rough neighborhood; the bus stop wasn’t a particularly safe place to wait. Her colleagues, including the one who called the meetings, could jump in their cars and go home. “See you tomorrow”. She had to wait.
After the bank received its TARP funds, last year, the bank cut employees hours, and only recently were the hours brought back to what they had been before the banking crisis last year. Of course, cutting back hours doesn’t mean cutting back on work – it means more work in the same hours for those remaining on the job.
As I said, Annette was talented at counting money. She has a wonderful sense of humor, and my knowledge of her was sufficient so that I know she’d be a great person to meet at the teller window – her job.
But something happened recently. I’m not sure what.
Maybe it was a new manager with different expectations. Whatever the case, Annette has just been fired. Something was mentioned about forgetting a procedure when dealing with counting out a large amount of money for a customer in $20 bills – there were no larger denomination bills available; or maybe the break room was messy and somebody blamed Annette for that. I doubt the issue is missing funds. When you’re a subordinate, you’re an easy target.
Long and short, while we’re out frantically trying to finish “Christmas shopping”, our friend is out of a job, back in her tiny apartment. Meanwhile, on my suggestion, we’ll be getting a new TV this week. The old one is a 15 year old 27″ that works just fine, and I suggested a few days ago, before I knew of the firing, that we give it to Annette. Cathy said “no”, Annette’s apartment is too tiny to accomodate it and the piece of furniture that goes with it.
It’s easy to say, about the Annette’s of our world, “tough bounce”.
Nowhere near as easy when you know the person as we have, for years.
As individuals, we can’t rescue Annette and all the Annette’s out there. It’s societies job, but “society” – the greater community in which we all live – doesn’t seem terribly interested in her sad story either. Evil Taxes, you know.
What to do?
The big bankers with Annette’s former bank will get big bonuses this Christmas. The government bailout was very helpful. Thank you very much. Some might take some time on her home island in the Caribbean.
Merry Christmas…and Happy New Year.