'I loved that shitty job'

Dateline: Wed 15 Jul 2009

This post is for a friend who asked how the severance package for fired managers at the Indianapolis Star is working.

The information, from a former worker with first-hand knowledge, is, in some instances, paraphrased and condensed. Warning to sensitive readers: I am including this individual's personal perspective. It will affect you.

So, on the issue of severance:

It apparently is legal, according to a financial adviser consulted by this individual. In fact, Gannett did not have to give a red cent to those employees not covered by the newspaper union, the Indianapolis Guild.

Rather than give severance to fired managers, as Gannett has done in the past, the company has created a trust fund to dole out what it calls "transitional pay." It is not severance.

This is a legal distinction. But it allows the state of Indiana -- (that's taxpayers, folks) -- to partially subsidize what used to be called severance.

A side note: this is the first time this is being done by Gannett, so we can therefore assume that Gannett has had way too much practice in laying off employees. Thus the G-men have figured out a way to save even more money -- albeit at the expense of its discarded employees.

This person says:

"Gannett will pay my salary every Friday for (XX) weeks -- one week for each year of service. Here's the catch. I will have to apply for state unemployment benefits. Whatever I receive from the state will be deducted from whatever Gannett is giving me. So say, for simplicity's sake, I was paid $1,000 a week, and the state will pay me $400, then Gannett will kick in $600 up to (XX) weeks."

As long as this former manager is eligible to receive state unemployment benefits, Gannett will kick in the difference to make up for the person's former salary -- but with no benefits, of course.

"Here's the rub," says the source. "According to state unemployment regulations, I must apply for at least one job every week (plus jump through other hoops). Failure to so do could make me ineligible to receive further state aid, meaning that Gannett is off the hook, too. Under state regulations, I would have to accept any job offer that pays at least 90 percent of my former salary. Accepting a job offer (even one that pays substantially less than 90 percent) terminates the transitional pay from Gannett."

Each fired employee received what Gannett coyly calls "an exit pack." Stick with me on this point, because it is crucial:

"Each (exit pack) was labeled with the employee's name, and each contained detailed personal pay information and what Gannett estimated the state should be paying us. This tells me that several people's exit packs were planned and coordinated well in advance, and, since the final layoff list was constantly changing, sometimes by the hour, there probably were several unused exit packs floating around. That's chilling."

Finally, the personal part. This person says that the ensuing days following the firing have been so jam-packed with financial details that there was not really time to absorb the impact of the job loss.

Then it came.

"...it hit me last night. The grieving, that is. Since my layoff, I've been so busy making financial arrangements, talking with well-wishers and planning for my job interviews, that I never had time to grieve.

"But right now, I feel like a betrayed lover, and my heart is breaking. I loved that shitty job, and I loved my co-workers who helped make it tolerable. I truly believed I was helping my staff avoid layoffs by coming up with creative ways of doing more with less....

"Today, all I want to do is curl up in bed and sleep. The only reason I'm awake to answer your e-mail is because the phone rang. I am embarrassed that I feel the way I do but recognize that it was inevitable. When this passes, I'm sure I will be stronger."

Here's to strength.

And for those "left behind"...for God's sake, wear red. Revolt.




ConcernedStaffer [Member] said:

I'm sure I am a friend to whomever wrote this note. As someone that "survived", I will work everyday to run this shi!!y company down, and until I turn in my notice.

I'm going to choose when I leave, not them. Not waiting around for an "exit pack" either.

Black Thursday and the fallout after made me realize that I don't want to work for a disgusting company like GCI anymore.

2009-07-15 20:34:42

ruthholl [Member] said:

Amen to all that.
The history of Gannett is well documented, sadly, in many articles, blogs and books.
It just -- to quote my former co-worker -- breaks my heart that the maliciousness has come to roost here in Indy.
But none of us should be surprised.
So yes, we do not want to work for a company that values profits over people. I wish you the best...we are all in it toether.

2009-07-15 21:15:27

ruthholl [Member] said:

together. I have an eye problem, and I can't always see what I wrote.
But I am not blind to the injustices at Gannett.
Thank you, ConcernedStaffer.

2009-07-15 21:17:37

nicmart [Member] said:

The sacked employees were sufficiently oblivious to Gannett's crumminess to labor on its behalf and take its filthy lucre. Newly disemployed, they have quickly developed remarkable powers of moral perception and indignation. Hypocrites.

2009-07-16 10:57:20

John Howard [unverified] said:

Or they were sufficiently motivated to try and make something with what little they had to work with rather than cut and run.

Having been in a company that went through 3 years of layoffs back in the early 90's - ultimately ending in disappearing altogether - I can say there's a spark of hope that dwindles slowly. There's some denial, too. But eventually the reality sinks in and you realize it is hopeless and either give up and wait for the end, or you bailout and start over again.

Once the severance becomes zero, the decision is easier to make.

2009-07-16 11:37:19

ruthholl [Member] said:

not fair, nicmart. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any G employee who does not know the drill: the company stinks. But hello, it's a lousy economy, and jobs for reporters/photogs/support staff are not growing on trees. Plenty of people have no choice: they have families to support, they don't have the luxury of up and quitting, they have bills etc. That does not make them hypocrites, only compromisers, which is what we all are in order to live.

2009-07-16 12:20:50

Whitebeard [unverified] said:

This brings up the interesting aspect of whether someone should be willing to compromise or even sell out his/her professional and personal ethics in order to pay the bills at home.

I am raising this as a philosophical question.

What I like most about Dan Carpenter: he keeps slamming away at the Sacred Cows in Indianapolis and in the state government - speaking truth to power.

Doesn't appear to be much of a willingness to compromise on Dan's part.

2009-07-16 12:54:10

Nicolas Martin [unverified] said:

The economy hasn't always been lousy, and plenty of employees have been willing to accept Gannett paychecks in good times, despite the company's many flaws. The criticism begins only when they get their pink slips.

Whitebeard's question would be a good one if there were some evidence that Gannett employees felt they sold out their ethics by working for the beast. Alas, that sentiment is absent.

The company is not separable from the people who voluntarily work for it. Gannett doesn't have the luxury of conscription. I celebrate the decline (and fall, I hope) of this socially destructive company, and have no sympathy for its minions.

I don't remember if I've ever herein posted Don Imus' old wisecrack about the New York Daily News, but it is apt. Imus said that he was once moved to tell a Daily News reporter that he was (as I remember it), a "piece of s++t." Then he decided it would be redundant since, if you work for the Daily News, you already know you are a piece of s++t.

Gannett reporters and editors have been and are smug, disingenuous, manipulative, and utterly useless at accomplishing the first duty of a newspaper: exposing political incompetence and malfeasance. Their disemployment benefits the country.

2009-07-16 14:09:21

John Howard [unverified] said:

Wow, nicmart, that's not been my experience at all. I have known 4 staffers from the Star and they've all been (a) decent, (b) passionate about their work, (c) friendly even to strangers like me, and (d) leave me no uncertainty that despite difficulties with their management, they would always strive to maintain the highest level of ethics and quality.

Now, there are a few that seem to slap-dash stories into Indystar.com without proofreading or supplying all the facts immediately. But I suspect even those are merely wilting under the pressure of managerial ogre-ism and are not inherently bad reporters.

2009-07-16 16:06:06

ruthholl [Member] said:

Nicolas Martin, in my experience, many reporters view their job as a mission or a calling. Nobody goes into journalism to get rich; reporters believe in the Fourth Estate, being the watchdog, telling good stories. A company like G co-opts those noble or healthy sentiments. You are right; Gannett is a lousy company, and all they care about is making money. But not everyone can see the forest for the trees, or has the wherewithal to make a change.

2009-07-16 23:42:46

ruthholl [Member] said:

I disagree that all G editors/reporters are "smug" etc. Plenty of good people did plenty of good work -- and are still doing it, under huge stress.
Should they all quit? Sure, and the exodus continues...everybody now knows how this will end with G, given their debt problems and emphasis on profit. As was written here, quoting an analyst, G as it exists now will not be around in 2011. These fools have ruined newspapers in towns all over the country.

2009-07-16 23:49:05

Paul K. Ogden [unverified] said:

I am not at all convinced you can call something "transitional pay" instead of "severance" and somehow avoid the law. It's a basic legal principle that what something is called simply doesn't matter, it what "it" actually is, regardless of name.

The IRS, for one, is not particularly impressed when people try to call income something else. Income is income is income. Doesn't matter what you call it.

Then again, maybe there more to the story about "transitional pay."

What may be the case is that the practice has never been legally challenged. You'd be surprised how many times that's the case.

I know for sure, the I

2009-07-17 11:58:35

nicmart [Member] said:

Newspapers die, new newspapers are born. Those presently dying are a sad and useless lot. It's an exciting time to watch new media replace the politically embedded behemoths.

Many of this blog's posts leave the probably all-too-accurate impression that reporters see their jobs as entitlements. It is impossible to imagine a genuinely independent reporter -- say, a Mencken -- joining a union.

2009-07-20 23:59:53

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