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Senior Editor, Printing Impressions Magazine

Printers’ Pulse

By Erik Cagle

About Erik

Erik Cagle is senior editor for Printing Impressions magazine. He has reported on the graphics arts industry for 11 years.

 

Weighing Company Health Against Employee Pain

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From the "it's going to get worse before it gets better" department comes a Quad/Graphics capacity reduction that sees 550 people lose their jobs this week. Another 72 jobs are gone as Courier Corp. shuts down short-run Book-mart of North Bergen, NJ, while 62 Multi-Color Corp. positions are eliminated as its Framingham, MA, operations are folded into other facilities. That's nearly 700 jobs in under a week. It's a safe bet that more than 1,000 people industry-wide will be cut loose this week.

I want to speak to two things today. One is excess capacity, the other is the human toll taken on the good folks of our industry.

For quite some time now, printers, in the course of casual chatting during interviews, have expressed the opinion that there's far too much capacity in printing, capacity that needs to go away. This sentiment almost predates the headache associated with finding skilled employees. In recent years, the talk has become much more intense. There just isn't enough work going around to keep the machines rolling, even when the rising tide is lifting all of those boats.

Well, be careful what you wish for, kind readers. The bleak economy is like a plague, killing off the weak and infirm; or a shaking of the printing tree, with the rotting fruit falling to the ground. The assumption is that once the clouds part and prosperity returns, the industry emerges both leaner and tougher.

On the flip side of the coin are the people who run those machines...the faces behind the statistics. There's nothing worse than the feeling of being powerless and, as a husband, wife, mother and father, you strive to shield your loved ones from pain whenever possible. The realities of business have hit close to home, and now when I read the press releases and see the mounting numbers, the multiplication of uncertainty stands upon my chest like a tangling of heavy, iron chains. There are 700 families left to wonder about their futures, how long their money will last, how will they will provide for their families, and how difficult it will be to find suitable work in a dismal job market.

Joel Quadracci, president and CEO of Quad/Graphics, called his move a strategic one, made from a position of financial and industry strength. What is the litmus test for your company when it comes to deciding to reduce staff? The large public and privately held companies operate on a different plane, obviously. But what about smaller printers with far less people? Do you absorb some pain first, or make the move in the course of standard operating procedures? Is there a formula for determining when a cutback must be made?

How do you strike a balance between making tough decisions that can benefit the company's long-term health while keeping roster reductions at a minimum? We'd like to hear from you.
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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
Sandy Stewart - Posted on January 19, 2009
I think you missed the most important of Quadracci's statements - "Quad/Graphics continues to have industry-leading profit margins." If I were looking for work after this bleak economy starts to brighten I would think twice about working for a company which puts leading profit margins ahead of caring for employees.

In the 1980s my surveyor husband worked for a small survey company in So. Calif. owned by Phillip Morris Corp. PMorris laid off 95% of their workforce at that survey company and most, like our family, found work elsewhere. Six months later, when the economy in the area picked up again, PMorris sent out offers to the former employees to come back to work. You shouldn't be surprised to hear that none of the surveyors went back to work there and the survey company went out of business. At a conference of surveyors not long after, we heard that Phillip Morris Corp was surprised when they learned that the surveyors didn't sit around collecting unemployment until they were called back to work.

Taking care of the needs of employees is an integral part of maintaining a reliable and stable workforce. Perhaps businesses need to look at the big picture as they grow and have a plan in place which best utilizes workers in both fat and lean economies. A loyal, experienced worker is a valuable asset. Discarding assets is rarely a good business decision.

Besides, "Industry Profit Leader" isn't really going to look nice on a tombstone. I want my legacy to sound more like "She is missed because she was a good steward of assets and cared about others."
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Archived Comments:
Sandy Stewart - Posted on January 19, 2009
I think you missed the most important of Quadracci's statements - "Quad/Graphics continues to have industry-leading profit margins." If I were looking for work after this bleak economy starts to brighten I would think twice about working for a company which puts leading profit margins ahead of caring for employees.

In the 1980s my surveyor husband worked for a small survey company in So. Calif. owned by Phillip Morris Corp. PMorris laid off 95% of their workforce at that survey company and most, like our family, found work elsewhere. Six months later, when the economy in the area picked up again, PMorris sent out offers to the former employees to come back to work. You shouldn't be surprised to hear that none of the surveyors went back to work there and the survey company went out of business. At a conference of surveyors not long after, we heard that Phillip Morris Corp was surprised when they learned that the surveyors didn't sit around collecting unemployment until they were called back to work.

Taking care of the needs of employees is an integral part of maintaining a reliable and stable workforce. Perhaps businesses need to look at the big picture as they grow and have a plan in place which best utilizes workers in both fat and lean economies. A loyal, experienced worker is a valuable asset. Discarding assets is rarely a good business decision.

Besides, "Industry Profit Leader" isn't really going to look nice on a tombstone. I want my legacy to sound more like "She is missed because she was a good steward of assets and cared about others."