Bait and Switch (Review)

Bait and Switch (Review)

n the mid-nineties, I got fired from a job. The company blamed me to shield their nepotistic connections and even denied my benefits by perjuring themselves in arbitration. It stunned me how petty and retributionist they were.

After four months of pointless looking, I found work on a furniture van and decided never to go back to the corporate world. But I had two more interviews to do. And, of course, I got them both (and went with contracting at Nasa). This directly led to my twenty year stint at an international transport company, a job I enjoyed and was successful with.

But most people aren’t this lucky. Many people get canned and stay canned.

Barbara Ehrenreigh is know for her Nickled and Dimed in America book, which looks at the horrible drudgery of our lower tier jobs. But her follow up, Bait and Switch, focuses on the whims and abuses of corporate America. Posing as a PR person looking for work, the author spends a year searching for any corporate job. In her search, she endures many of the “counseling” services, network events, come-ons, everything that a desperate job-hunter might try to find employment. And in it, we find stories of other “middle class” victims, people thrown out of work to boost stock or get the company through lean times, the reorganizations and whims of globalized Goliaths. All this in 2005, when I was happily employed (though I do remember being concerned at the time when a layoff rolled through our ranks and took out 10% of our staff (I survived, but I’d cleaned my desk for the eventuality of it)).

So yes, in these times when the rich are getting breathtakingly richer, when there is a franchised loan office on every corner, when “will work for food” signs blossom in every set of dirty hands, and when the DOW hits greater heights, she rightly draws conclusions that I’d agree to – when are the office drones going to unionize, strike back and perhaps burn down? We’re seeing a little of that now, when the waitresses, baristas, teachers and nurses are leaving their shit jobs and looking for better (to the complaints of the complacent). She tells it like it is.

It sure reminded me of sitting in that uncomfortable wooden arbitration chair, listening as the president of the company lied under oath about constructed fakery, a woman I’d surrendered pay cuts and long hours to. So yes, I liked the book. Read it. Especially if you are between jobs. At least you’ll recognize the traps without falling into them.