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As first reported here on MNB Friday morning in a "Breaking News" story, Michigan-based Meijer is engaged in substantial layoffs as way of streamlining its operations to be more competitive.

The company is eliminating some 1,900 jobs in its 158 stores as well in its corporate headquarters and distribution centers. The job cuts are largely from the company’s managerial and administrative ranks.

Meijer spokesman John Zimmerman said, "As part of our continual transformation, we have been studying the industry's best practices. As a result, we have determined we need to streamline our stores' supervisory structure in each store. These are hard decisions to make but they're necessary decisions."

It is not known if any stores will be closed by the company, though MNB has learned that it is likely that Meijer is considering not building a long-planned store in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, which has been the subject of some court battles.

This is Meijer's third round of significant cost cutting in less than three years, though it is by far the farthest reaching. The company eliminated 400 office jobs, mostly through attrition, back in July 2001, and then cut about 350 white-collar positions in December 2003.

There was heart-wrenching coverage of the layoffs in the Bay City Times, which quoted one laid-off department manager as saying that "it was very, very cold and unfeeling. I didn't expect a hug, but just the day before we were given a video presentation by (Meijer Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer) Hank Meijer himself, a videotape prepared ahead of time, telling us how great a year Meijer had in 2003 in terms of profitability.

"He thanked us for our excellent work, our dedication and our professionalism, and then it's 'Oh, by the way, over the next few weeks we'll be making some changes.'"
KC's View:
It is ironic that Meijer, which pioneered the supercenter concept four decades ago, now is being pushed into these major cuts in part because of competition from Wal-Mart's supercenters.

Life ain't fair.

That said, we have to say that we believe Meijer is serious about its efforts to reinvent itself. Hank Meijer, the company's CEO, has been very public about the organization's need to be less insular in its approach to the business, and more open to the sharing of information and strategies with vendors.

Meijer has called the current environment "the new normal." This reality is an unpleasant one for the almost two thousand people and families affected by this round of cuts.

And once again, we see evidence of what is becoming popularly known as the "jobless recovery." On the Sunday morning political shows, there was some discussion about this "jobless recovery," and the irony that despite the economic problems that would ordinarily be associated be unemployment issues, the stock market seems to be leading the charge of people saying that the economy is on the rebound.

Stories like Meijer's and last week's enormous layoffs at Kodak in New York State, certainly create questions about the quality of the recovery. In Western Michigan alone, 700 workers at an Electrolux recently found out that their manufacturing jobs will head to Mexico next year. And Steelcase, the area's biggest manufacturer, is believed to be readying yet another in a series of restructuring/layoff announcements.

After all, it isn’t just that these are 1,900 people from Meijer who just are out of work. It is 1,900 people who are very shortly are going to start having trouble buying food for their families, clothes for their children, and the other kinds of necessities normally associated with life in a robust and prosperous environment.

On the other hand, if they don't have much money, they always can shop at Wal-Mart. And since the conventional wisdom is that "as Wal-Mart goes, so goes the country," maybe we're not in such bad shape after all.