More Companies Are Cutting Labor Costs Without Layoffs1
Pretech, a concrete company in Kansas City, Kan., has not had a layoff in 15 years. To avoid layoffs in this downturn, it is cutting overtime and other labor costs.
Even as layoffs are reaching historic levels, some employers have found an alternative to slashing their work force. They’re nipping and tucking it instead.
A growing number of employers, hoping to avoid or limit layoffs, are introducing four-day workweeks, unpaid vacations and voluntary or enforced furloughs, along with wage freezes, pension cuts and flexible work schedules. These employers are still cutting labor costs, but hanging onto the labor.
And in some cases, workers are even buying in. Witness the unusual suggestion made in early December by the chairman of the faculty senate at Brandeis University, who proposed that the school’s 300 professors and instructors give up 1 percent of their pay.
“What we are doing is a symbolic gesture that has real consequences — it can save a few jobs,” said William Flesch, the senate chairman and an English professor.
He says more than 30 percent have volunteered for the pay cut, which could save at least $100,000 and prevent layoffs for at least several employees. “It’s not painless, but it is relatively painless and it could help some people,” he said.
Some of these cooperative cost-cutting tactics are not entirely unique to this downturn. But the reasons behind the steps — and the rationale for the sharp growth in their popularity in just the last month — reflect the peculiarities of this recession, its sudden deepening and the changing dynamics of the global economy.
Companies taking nips and tucks to their work force say this economy plunged so quickly in October that they do not want to prune too much should it just as suddenly roar back. They also say they have been so careful about hiring and spending in recent years — particularly in the last 12 months when nearly everyone sensed the country was in a recession — that highly productive workers, not slackers, remain on the payroll.
At some companies, employees are supporting the indirect wage cuts — at least for now. The downturn hit so hard, with its toll felt so widely through hits on pensions and 401(k) retirement plans and with the future so murky, that employers and even some employees say it is better to accept minor cuts than risk more draconian steps.
The rolls of companies nipping at labor costs with measures less...