I have worked at Pfizer for almost two years. I’m technically not an intern because I can work as long as I am in school. Officially, I am a student assistant. While admittedly shorter than other student assistants, my two-year stint has allowed me to become integrated into the Pfizer community. With the recent closing of the Ann Arbor site, there has been a lot of discussion about the “real lesson of Pfizer” and the economic effects on Michigan’s fragile economy. But I think the more important discussion is about those who have lost their jobs.

Pfizer is the epitome of the corporate world, where business means making a product that can turn a profit. Those I have met and those I have worked with, though, are anything but corporate. Most of them care more about their family and friends than stock prices and corporate earnings. They are skilled and intelligent scientists, but family and friends are always most important to them.

One of my supervisors has two daughters; another has two with a third child on the way. She recently took time off to take her family to Walt Disney World and visit her brother. They have always been incredibly kind and generous bosses. They make cakes for my birthday, take me to lunch for Christmas and give me time off when I need it. They are patient when I make mistakes but quick to praise when I do well.

One of my fellow employees calls me into his office merely to talk about my schooling and places I’d like to travel. Another stops me in the hall regularly to talk about future plans and tells me everyday that he knows I’ll succeed. There are a thousand others just like them who are everything we should hope to be as adults – smart, hard workers with big hearts. I cannot speak for everyone on the corporate ladder, but I certainly will speak for those I work with. It saddens me deeply to know every single one of them has just been fired.

When you read about 2,100 people losing their jobs, it doesn’t really mean anything: It’s just a faceless number. I wasn’t at work the day of the announcement, and I found out about the closing in The Michigan Daily, like many others. Even then I couldn’t comprehend the profundity of what had happened. All the people I had ever known and met through Pfizer were going to lose their jobs. It felt so distant to read about it in print.

It hit me that Thursday when I went to work. Normally animated with lab experiments and data analysis, all work had essentially come to a halt. People everywhere were in groups talking about what to do next. Most of the tears had been shed days earlier and light laughter had emerged by now. When I walked in, one department head jokingly said to me “Well, Jeff, it looks like you may be the last one here!” They weren’t joyful about losing their jobs, but they were dealing with things as best they could.

Thursday was a very profound experience for me. As I walked through the cafeteria, the number 2,100 began to suffocate me. Every face I saw was the face of someone who had just lost a job – director heads, lab workers, security guards, cooks, everyone. When people lose their careers, it’s a life-changing event. And it had just happened to everyone, to every face I saw as I shifted through that cafeteria. Everyone seemed so human to me then.

The biggest concern for them is what to do next, what to do to support their families. One man I know has five kids, and he is the only one who works in his household. Many will have to relocate and tear their kids out of school. Others will sell their homes and cars. Some might go back to school. Everyone will be searching for work. I can lose my position, and let’s be honest, my life won’t be drastically affected. But these are people with families who depend on their incomes. So every day I ask myself the same question they ask themselves: What will they do next?

Jeffrey Harding is an LSA junior.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.