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When a big Baltimore corporation laid off entire swathes of employees, then donated millions to social justice
Lay off a bunch of people at the outset of a pandemic? No problem. But to get caught not being an ally of the movement, now that would be a completely different story.
In 1983 Jim Davis and his cousin Steven Bisciotti founded Aerotek, an engineering and industrial staffing company supporting Maryland’s growing aerospace and defense industries. The two grew Aerotek from a then startup to a now multi-billion dollar corporate conglomerate known as Allegis Group. Over the years that corporate growth produced personal fortunes for the two founders, both of whom would later translate cash into ownership stakes in professional sports teams. [a]
And while Bisciotti has been known to exhibit a bit of suave flair, it is the unexciting but deliberate persona of Davis, Baltimore’s “quiet billionaire”, that Allegis the company has adopted. Despite being virtually unknown to the average consumer, Allegis is truly a corporate colossus of Baltimore. As of 2019 it was the city's single largest private business, having generated $13.4 billion dollars in revenue the prior year. That makes Allegis almost triple the size of Under Armour. [b] [c]
And with that big revenue comes big employee headcounts, both globally and locally. 2019 data from The Baltimore Business Journal shows that Allegis internally employed some 20 thousand people worldwide, 2.2 thousand of whom worked locally, right here in greater Baltimore. [d]
But then in 2020 something happened: the number of local employees at Allegis Group dropped 14% year-over-year. What was 2,272 local employees in 2019, became 1,950 local employees in 2020, a loss of 322 people. [e]
So what happened to those 322 people and the jobs they held?
Well of course 2020 was the year of the virus. And for a business whose function is to match people with work, you can bet the commerce constricting lockdowns and the hiring freezes that followed them affected Allegis Group’s bottom line. In fact research firm Staffing Industry Analysts reported that revenues for staffing companies were down a median of 32% year-over-year in April because of covid. [f]
Yeah so that probably explains what happened to those 322 people: less revenue means less cash for payroll, eventually resulting in cost cutting layoffs. An unfortunate but straightforward calculus. Such an occurrence would not have been unique to Allegis, according to data from HR software company Bullhorn, 48% of all staffing companies resorted to layoffs amidst the virus. [g]
Although, Allegis Group did not disclose layoffs to the public, as The Baltimore Sun reported they did back in 2001 and 2009. So maybe not? [h] [i]
But from the 2000s to now, the internet hath proliferated, and the ability to divulge and distribute news is no longer held solely by corporations and newspapers, but has been extended to everyone. And for better or worse, what words of mouth were once whim are now written into the web for all those who seek to see.
According to anonymized discussion on a forum called TheLayOff.com, on the week of May 18th 2020, nearly 100 people were laid off from Allegis Group’s IT department alone: [j]
And those layoffs reportedly disproportionately affected junior level staff: [j]
Similar chatter corroborating layoffs can be found on the employer review site Glassdoor. One reviewer of Allegis remarked on the layoffs saying that a startling 600 people were lost, another commenter said 20% of the entire corporate staff was let go. And then of course there is the 322 employee differential in The Baltimore Business Journal’s year-over-year data. [k] [l]
Well the exact details may never be known to the public, but this much seems clear: layoffs of some significant form took place at Allegis Group in May of 2020.
But this story is not about the layoffs, and how they may have affected a swathe of workers whose jobs were revoked during a period of stratospheric uncertainty. This story is about something different.
Just four short weeks after the corporate cupboards were shown bare to those employees Allegis laid off, two non-profit entities connected to Allegis Group, the Davis Family Foundation and the Allegis Group Foundation, combined to pledge $10 million dollars in donations in support of “social justice”. [m]
You’ll vividly remember it was the death of George Floyd on televised infinite loop that triggered a racial reckoning so pervasive it had both barely pubescent high schoolers and long toothed institutional aristocrats changing their social media profile pictures to black squares. Silence became violence. And you were either antiracist ally or enemy, right now, no in-between. Signal thine allegiance or be cast out. And Allegis Group, like so many, chose ally.
Announcing Allegis Group’s moneyed commitment to social justice was spokesperson Stephen Lee via an article in The Baltimore Business Journal. Lee confirmed that Allegis is committed to affecting “positive change” in response to the “systemic racism” that means not “everyone has the same level of access to opportunity”. Materially demonstrating that commitment would be the aforementioned $10 million dollars, set aside exclusively for social justice organizations, especially those that focus on ensuring people in “underserved populations have access to employment and career opportunities”. [m]
So which specific social justice organizations do you suppose received the donation? And how might they plan to use millions of dollars?
Well at the time of publishing spokesperson Lee was unable to name the specific organizations, but he did say there were plans to announce “additional details in the coming weeks” after Allegis leadership had the opportunity to further discuss internally.
If you were to speculate as to who the recipients might be prior to those additional details being released, your abductive reasoning might go something like this: Allegis was founded locally, it is still headquartered locally, Davis reportedly still lives locally, and Allegis has a well documented history of acting charitably locally. It would not seem logically unsound to presume the donation recipients would be local as well.
So who are Baltimore’s social justice organizations and what do they stand for?
A quick Google search accordingly returns the names of two organizations: Baltimore United for Change and Baltimore Racial Justice Action. BUC believes that a “lens that recognizes structural violence is central to transforming Baltimore”, and BRJA asserts that “white people” receive “daily benefits from racism” and therefore “need to understand their privilege”. Would seem a little on the nose for a company and a chairman who prefer to keep a low profile right? [n] [o]
But soon there’d be no reason to speculate, Lee would clear things up for us with those additional details. Only, the “coming weeks” he cited came and went, and as far as I can tell, no more details about the $10 million dollar donation were released. That is, until a full six months later, in December of 2020, Allegis Group released a follow-up statement in the form of this video called: Bridging The Opportunity Divide, featuring Allegis Group’s acting president.
In the video the president explains how Allegis has historically been reluctant about spotlighting their good deeds out of a sense of humility, but now things are different. Now the world is tackling “systemic racism” and the “opportunity divide it creates”. And so now is the time to amplify the Allegis message of “job equity” and “positive change for underrepresented people”. [p]
Then the President calls back to Allegis’s $10 million dollar pledge from June, it’s as though he is finally about to release those additional details and name the donation’s recipients. But then the president says this: “Here are a few of the organizations that our company has partnered with over the years in our efforts to close the opportunity gap”. [p]
Huh? This isn’t supposed to be about who you’ve partnered with in the past, this is about who you are partnering with now and in the future, in the name of social justice, to the tune of $10 million dollars. None of those existing partnerships from over the years were formed with systemic racism, social justice, and job equity as pretext in the way they would be now. But that was it. No more relevant information was shared.
And here we are now another nine months later, and again as far as I can tell, Allegis has yet to release the names of the recipient social justice organizations. It would appear there is no statute of limitations on the fulfillment and disclosure of a charitable commitment.
Now I’ll make no claims to knowing absolutely the motives in the hearts of those at Allegis who approved laying off employees only to turn around and pledge millions to social justice. But one can’t ignore the obvious utility in having a headline that paraphrasingly reads “Allegis Group donates millions to social justice” circulating the internet at the very same time antiracist twitter swarms were marking wealthy white men for cancellation left and right. Surely many dukes and viscounts of the ancien régime would join the mob in crying out vive la révolution if it meant keeping their neck free of the guillotine.
And by publicizing a social justice message, you’re signaling the very same woke worldview held by your employees and your customers, presumably improving relations with both. In fact is there any risk of downside whatsoever for a corporation like Allegis to emote woke? It seems an obvious if less-principled maneuver in self-preservation. Once upon a time there might have at least been a functional fourth-estate type local press to cover the story critically, but the press now is much closer to an extension of the corporation than it is an adversary.
And really that is what this story is about. It’s about self-interest masquerading as social-virtue, the absence of legitimate criticism, and the smallfolk that get lost in the mix. And it’s a story you can be certain has played out time and again throughout the country over the past eighteen months.
As it was for Allegis Group last year, layoff an entire swathe of employees when they are at their most vulnerable and no-one will bother to bat an eye. But to get caught not being an ally of the social justice movement, now that would be a completely different situation.
I reached out to both Allegis Group and The Baltimore Business Journal for comment, but have yet to hear back from either. If that changes will include their response here.
This article also appeared on The Duckpin.