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October 15, 2001
Benefits Pioneer Polaroid Files For Ch. 11
Pol
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aroid Corp., a pioneer in workplace benefits as well as photography, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday.

Human-resource specialists, including some who once worked for the Cambridge, Mass.-based corporation, recalled for the Boston Globe that Polaroid was among the first to offer its employees work-family, domestic violence, and education benefits.

"Using company time and company money, Polaroid provided training for its workers," said Henry Morgan, who served as the company's HR director from 1968 to 1972. "Programs that stressed self-education and encouraged individuals to take responsibility for themselves were plentiful at Polaroid.... It encouraged an atmosphere where people were free to do and create a most unusual thing."

The company's employee-driven culture even landed it in the 1993 book, "The 100 Best Companies to Work for in America."

But Polaroid fell on hard times in recent years, with digital imaging and one-hour film development eroding its sales. As sales worsened, it began eliminating some of the benefits that had given it such a good name. In recent weeks, retirees saw steep cuts in their pension and health benefits. Newly laid-off workers got no severance packages.

On Thursday, the day before the bankruptcy filing, Polaroid told retirees that their health benefits were ending altogether.

Still, the Globe notes, Morgan and others have not forgotten Polaroid's past reputation. Sandra Waddock, a management professor and a senior research fellow at the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, told the newspaper that the company was instrumental in getting other firms in Massachusetts to develop programs that offered battered female workers a link to the region's family shelters.

"They really fostered the knowledge that domestic abuse was an employee matter and that employers ought to be involved," said Waddock, who noted that the company still ranks high on a list of the 100 best corporate citizens, published by the Minneapolis-based Business Ethics magazine.

She added that Polaroid's founder, Edwin Land, "had a tremendous vision that was shared with employees throughout the company. It was one of the first to recognize the importance of diversity, and one of the first to think about the role it was playing in South Africa."

But on at least one occasion it was two of the company's workers who prodded it to do the right thing. In 1970, an African-American photographer who worked for Polaroid in Cambridge noticed his employer's equipment was being used to make the passbooks and identification cards that monitored the whereabouts of over 21 million South African blacks. That led to a protest for the company to sever its ties to the country. In the end, it worked.

Links

  • The Boston Globe article referenced above.
  • A Globe article on the bankruptcy filing.

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