The “C” Word


Julie was a store manager of Furniture Fiesta. Four years ago, Digi-World picked up the small chain in an expansion move, hoping to expand into the office furniture market space. But a bad economy exposed Furniture Fiesta as a ball and chain on Digi-World’s overall business. Nine months ago, Julie got the word: Furniture Fiesta would soon join the likes of Circuit City and Steve & Barry’s.

After putting in a dozen years, Julie knew she needed to move fast to save her career. She polished the résumé and checked out a list of Furniture Fiesta competitors that were still standing. That’s when Glenn called.

Glenn was a Digi-World regional manager. Desperate to keep knowledgeable staff, Glenn pitched Julie a hard-to-refuse offer: Stay on, see the store liquidation through to the end, and take home a $30,000 bonus. She bit and signed the contract.

And now, after putting in her nine months, months when she could have been pounding the pavement before the economy tanked even further, Glenn had the nerve to tell her the bonus deal was off. Not only that, but Digi-World’s flotilla of legal sharks had found a way to negate her contract.

So Julie went outside for a smoke and gave serious contemplation to taking her lighter to something. Anything. Actually, Glenn, would be a start. She’d have good reason, right?

So much for commitment.

Which is why I look at this AIG fiasco with a different eye. The people receiving these much-maligned bonuses weren’t getting optional performance bonuses, but binding retention bonuses, like Julie, for staying on to close down unprofitable portions of the company. I give you my word...They deserved the money because they made career sacrifices for it and had a legal right to it, no matter how much they make. If there’s a problem, then fix it, but shafting the people who did the work?

So much for commitment.

Folks, that could be you and me being stiffed out of our money for agreed-upon work.

It bothers me that people roll so easily on promises, vows, and commitments. We all know about the divorce rate, but it extends out into so many areas, even to the constant turnaround in the rosters of pro sports teams. Everything is transitory, to the point that saying “I give you my word” carries about as much worth as a five-ticket toy at Chuck E. Cheese.

We in the Church can do a great deal of good by being the counterexample. But it’s going to cost us something. We won’t be seen as “team players” by the rest of the world if we always honor commitments, especially when the higher-ups want to just call the whole thing off, no harm, no foul.

In truth, it’s never no foul, is it? Someone’s always getting stiffed when commitment goes wanting.

Better it be us Christians, that we might spare someone else the pain. After all, we have the perfect example of commitment, don’t we?

16 thoughts on “The “C” Word

  1. Ronni

    It’s sad but true. I’m actually moving this week due to a bad deal with a “Christian” gone bad. He didn’t live up to what the original contract was, and I ended up physically injured on his property with no way to even cover my physical therapy, therefore I’m still injured. So, I took it as a chance to get my priorities right.

    I don’t know how we can stand in the world and take it when this is how we treat each other… It hurts my heart so badly to watch.

  2. Jim N

    Finally! Someone who understands what is happening with the bonuses. Having shared a similar story as Julie, and having been part of a management team whos task was to tell people their sacrifice was for naught; I have been patiently waiting for someone to see past the political hype and mention what is really happening here.
    Remarkable how this issue is playing out. People are being taken in busloads to “witness” the lifestyle of the people responsible for the financial woes of our country. The historical similarities are troublesome, to say the least. We have to wonder, who will be next to be vilified? It can only be a short step from casting blame due to financial situations to ultimately casting blame upon the faithful.
    Thank you Dan, for your boldness.

    • Jim N,

      Nothing steams me more than executives getting more pay than they should, especially guaranteed performance bonuses received even when the company tanks. I’m especially galled when the workforce is cut while the exec gets said bonus. That’s wicked.

      But when you have a contract tied to retention, that should be honored at all cost. AIG promised retainer bonuses to keep these people from jumping when it was announced that their divisions were going away. That it has been so blithely overlooked in the media is scary, and too many people with not enough info are beefing about this without understanding how this may one day come back to bite them.

      I mean, what is scarier than our government singling out a small group of people for a laser-like tax? How dare the government tax 90 percent of that retention bonus income! The Founders of this country would be stunned at such a brazen move against such a limited group of people. Consider how this tactic can be used as a coercive measure by the government against any group they don’t particularly like (Christians, perhaps?).

      I don’t care if each of these execs (and we don’t have a good idea what level these “execs” are within AIG, many of them could be typical middle-management folks) made $2 milllion a year with a $1 million retention bonus. That’s guaranteed, legally contracted money, and they should get it. It’s principle, folks. It doesn’t matter how much they make. It’s the millionaire who gets shafted one day, then it’s you the next.

      Now should AIG have to suffer some pain? Yes. That money needs to come out of their coffers, not the government’s. Still, if the government hands out this money so blithely, they should expect people to take advantage. Finding loopholes is what humans do exceedingly well when given the opportunity. But that’s not the fault of the people to whom this money is owed, right?

    • Travis,

      A commitment is a commitment, especially when it is legally binding.

      Yes, AIG should have gone into bankruptcy. I agree. But again, a commitment is a commitment.

      Taxing the bonuses IS stupid and underhanded, as is much of this bailout (though perhaps not all aspects of the bailout in all cases). The way taxes work, in general, is utterly insane. (When no one understands the tax code because it is too enormous to be grasped by anyone, then we need to go to a VAT, which is brain-dead simple and can be managed easily.)

      • Dan,

        I’m referring to certain politicians who inserted language into the bill which specifically allowed these retention bonuses to be paid with stimulus funds. Those politicians were bound by no such prior commitments.

        How “honorable” would AIG have been in this case if they’d had to pay with their own money, rather than with ours? It’s easy to be generous when you’re spending other people’s money (as groups like AIG have proven over the past decade).

  3. Brian

    There are some in the media who are starting to catch on. I can’t seem to find my facebook link with all the news stories reporting these facts, but they are out there.

    The problem is that the news “narrative” is too far gone to recover with facts. The employees who received the retention bonus were NOT a part of the credit-default swap group in the Financial Products division of AIG. They received those bonuses to help “wind-down” the mess. But I guess spending $170 million to about 400 employees to fix a few trillion dollar mess is too much to ask. Government SHOULD NOT be in the business of being a business. They suck at it.

    Another thing. Learn this term, Bill of Attainder. Some people consider the 90% tax to be this. Yeah, its unconstitutional.

  4. Brian

    Found my links. Very good questions. Note the author

    Bill of attainder. Watch out for this should the AIG tax pass.

    Yep, the folks that are getting paid these bonus were not the cause of AIGs downfall — credit default swaps.

    Yeah, this sums it up quite well.

  5. David

    Back in the Katrina aftermath, a church here in Tennessee gave a family from New Orleans a house. The family turned around and sold it. There was much maligning of the church for not being more careful about how they handled the deal, but there’s an important lesson here: Don’t pause at the small print.

    If We the Church get shafted doing good, then we continue doing good. That’s persecution. We shouldn’t fade away because it’s a big, bad world out there. We’re going to get ripped off simply because we are honest, and the world is not.

    That doesn’t mean we should be gullible fools, but it does mean we hang ourselves out in the rushing current knowing we could be hurt. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. We should do the same.

    • David,

      In Hugo’s Les Miserables, the convict Jean Valjean, after being released from prison with no prospects and nowhere to go, is put up for the night by a kindly bishop. Valjean returns the favor by coldcocking him and stealing the church’s silverware.

      When caught redhanded later, Valjean is returned to the bishop, who then acts as if the silverware were a gift, startling the gendarmes and Valjean. The bishop then whispers to Valjean that with this gift,he has ransomed the prisoner’s soul. Valjean later goes on to become an important man in Paris, who never forgets the mercy shown him, repaying it to others many times over.

      Not every instance of kindness will result in a Jean Valjean. But we cannot stop loving, because we never know when one will.

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