Ratcheting up the pressure on Gannett, employees at the Courier-Post have threatened to file a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department, according to a letter I received today that claims "many non-exempt employees work beyond their allotted hours without being paid overtime."
The Feb. 10 letter, addressed to Publisher Walt Lafferty and apparently also sent to senior GCI executives, sets a Feb. 22 deadline -- this Friday -- for filing the complaint if the employees' concerns aren't addressed. The letter is signed "Crying out for the Courier."
I've asked Gannett spokeswoman Tara Connell for comment.
Courier-Post staffers in Cherry Hill, N.J., have referred to the letter in e-mails to me, and in comments on this Gannett Blog post. But I had not seen the letter until today.
The letter says the work-for-no-pay issue follows the loss of at least eight newsroom employees since November at a time when staffers are pressed to work even more. "The issue often is addressed by telling the employee to take time off as compensation, but that seldom occurs because the workload does not make it practical,'' the letter says.
Here's the letter's full text:
Feb. 10, 2008
President and Publisher
301 Cuthbert Blvd.
Cherry Hill, N.J. 08002
Dear Mr. Lafferty:
The Courier-Post newsroom is in crisis.
Employees are overworked with no relief in sight, and not being paid for working overtime. Reporters often lack necessities to do their job, like having new notebooks; the photo department sometimes cannot handle assignments because of a lack of equipment. Upper management has taken an increasingly critical tone, often demeaning employees in public. The tension has increased to the point that the men’s and women’s bathrooms in the newsroom have been deliberately soiled by feces in separate incidents. This appears to be a result of demoralized employees seeking an outlet to vent ever-mounting frustration.
The staff has shrunk significantly since November – at least eight newsroom employees have left – leaving fewer people to handle a workload that continues to increase with the addition of new publications. This comes on top of dealing with the daily newspaper, zoned Communities pages, special sections and online coverage beyond what goes in the newspaper. The executive editor and the managing editor seem oblivious to the impact of this workload on the remaining employees.
The result is a staff that is overworked to the point where it often is physically impossible to complete the required work within the scheduled work week. As a consequence, many non-exempt employees work beyond their allotted hours without being paid overtime. The issue often is addressed by telling the employee to take time off as compensation, but that seldom occurs because the workload does not make it practical.
Employees who have worked overtime in the past must be compensated for their time and they must be advised of the newspaper’s overtime policy and assured it will be enforced. If these steps are not taken by Feb. 22, we see no recourse other than to file a complaint with the hour and wage division of the U.S. Department of Labor.
The lack of equipment has made it difficult for people throughout the newsroom to do their job. Beyond notebooks and photo equipment, layout editors frequently have to wait their turn to use the inadequate number of pagination stations. This results in a loss of production time for the newspaper. The two newsroom copy machines are frequently broken, forcing employees to use the copy machine in advertising and often having to wait in line. There have been occasions when the newsroom has run out of copier paper.
Dealing with these challenges has been exacerbated by the increasingly critical tone taken by the executive editor and managing editor toward the staff. The result is a chaotic, mismanaged workplace in which the executive editor and managing editor are inconsistent in their direction to employees. Such an environment stifles initiative, creativity and productivity. Employees often are left frustrated by the lack of a clear, defined approach.
This climate of crisis is embodied by the soiling of the bathrooms. In the first incident, in the men’s bathroom, it took 24 hours for the feces to be removed from the floor. A reporter had to send out an electronic message warning employees about the situation. In the second incident, in the women’s bathroom, management quickly responded to have the feces removed and the area sanitized. Still, some employees believe the incidents were meant as a symbol of the mounting frustration they face on a daily basis.
We hope this letter brings to your attention this serious situation, and leads to action that will prevent it from escalating.
Crying out for the Courier
Sue Clark-Johnson, President, Newspaper Division, Gannett Co.
Philip R. Currie, Senior vice president, news, Newspaper Division, Gannett Co.
W. Curtis Riddle, Atlantic Newspaper Group, Gannett Co.
Roxanne V. Horning, Senior vice president, Human Resources, Gannett Co.
Skip Hidlay, Executive editor, Asbury Park Press
[Image: this morning's Courier-Post, Newseum]