Tony Dobrowolski: Losing your job is no fun
It's hard enough to lose a job, but I can tell you from experience that it's definitely no fun being laid off from one. It happened to me, albeit 35 years ago.
Luckily, for me, I was a victim of bumping, which occurred at my long ago former place of employment when employees with more seniority and higher rates of pay were able to replace or "bump" out those who were in the opposite situation like me.
I say lucky because under that scenario I was able to find temporary employment elsewhere with my former employer that kept me on the payroll for seven more months. I was prepared when the ax finally fell, and had already figured out a new game plan.
Unfortunately, that scenario wasn't available to the hundreds of employees of Northern Berkshire Healthcare who lost their jobs on Friday.
The hardest part of losing a job, even if you kind of know it's coming, is the feeling that you get after being told it's official. It's a kind of shock, maybe stunned is the best way to explain it, and it takes awhile to come to terms with it. Due to the way events transpired at NBH, I'm sure there's a lot of justifiable anger that workers are dealing with, too.
I was the only one in my unit to be told he was being let go, so I didn't really have anyone to commiserate with. That may be little consolation to the workers who were let go at NBH en masse, but strength in numbers does help. You can lean on each other to get through this.
I also can't comprehend how it must feel to be told that the job you may have been doing for years will suddenly be terminated in three days. There's no time to make plans, or even digest the magnitude of what just happened before you have to leave. It must have hit those employees like a thunder clap. That's tough.
In my case, I was offered options shortly after being told someone else would be taking my place. I also had a little bit of time, it might have been two weeks, before I had to transition to my new position. The employees at NBH don't have that luxury. I wish them the best in dealing with that.
It's hard to find any good in a situation like this, but kudos should be given to the state for sending a team up to North Adams immediately to assist former employees with information about collecting unemployment benefits or exploring new career options.
The Greylock Federal Credit Union, the county's largest credit union, has also offered to meet one-on-one with people affected by the closure to help them understand their financial options.
"The news about North Adams Regional Hospital is very concerning," the credit union said in a statement it issued on Thursday, "Our hearts go out to the families who are being impacted."
The sad part of all this is that workers like the ones at NBH are really just collateral damage in these kinds of situations, pawns in a game where management holds all the cards.
I've never run a business, but I know it's difficult, especially for one that has over 500 employees. Complicated decisions have to be made, especially in an economic climate that is as uncertain as ours still is. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to absolve management of blame. This mess didn't develop overnight. But whatever did happen, the workers had to pay the price. The employees of NBH deserved better.
Unfortunately, this kind of mass layoffs have happened in the Berkshires way too often. Not that long ago, the General Electric Co. laid off over 1,000 workers in both 1986 and 1990 when it began to downsize its way out of the Berkshires. Before that, Sprague Electric dropped 581 positions in 1985.
The mass layoffs that occurred when K-B Toys closed in 2009 weren't quite as extensive -- 270 employees lost their jobs -- but the timing was terrible. I don't care how bad a company's financial situation is, it doesn't get much worse than announcing a company is going to close its doors exactly two weeks before Christmas. The layoffs at K-B were staggered, which meant everyone wasn't laid off at the same time. But I'm sure it wasn't a happy holiday at many homes around the Berkshires that year.
I hope it will be a happier rest of the year for the employees at NBH. All I can say is hang in there.
Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of The Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at tdobrowolski@ berkshireeagle.com.