Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Letter: Cherry Hill staff threatening Labor Department complaint on unpaid overtime

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

Walt Lafferty
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]


  1. Great letter! Is it Feb. 22 yet?

  2. Remove "Cherry Hill" insert any other gannett newspaper's name.. same issues, different town.

  3. This is amazing that the company lets it get to this point. We get it. It's bad all over. We get it we need to do things differently. We get all of that but happened to being treated like human being with a bit of dignity?
    Do we need to start doing our business on the floor to get some reaction from corporate?
    It's not just Cherry Hill or Nashville folks. It's all over. Some places of better than others but some are in dire need of help. Are going back to time when we need to start a union because the company doesn't care about it's workers any more?
    So everyone knows it's bad at corporate as well.

  4. it's bad at corporate as well...?! really?! even with your gourmet chefs..?? give me a break.

  5. Ah we pay for the food we eat just as if you would go buy your own lunch. they make food for sale available so they get more work out of us.

  6. Morale is low at corporate, too! But this problem is not exclusive to just one paper - or one company even. Newspapers have ALWAYS done this - and AP is probably one of the few organizations that actually pays its employees for time worked - including overtime. I feel sorry for any Gannett employee who doesn't realize the entire industry is going to hell in a hand basket and this issue is just the tip of the iceberg. Any company that makes staffing cuts as deep as it has nationwide and expects the employees who are left to do their jobs, the jobs of those who have left (with shoddy equipment and outdated technology), and feed the net 'pretend news' AND eat sh!@$ from bullying bosses, well can expect crap on the floor and more.

  7. The last poster said it. The entire industry is going down the very toilet the Cherry Hill folks have used to stress their point. Where does that leave us? Donating time to Gannett, which is ludicrous. And it just seems callous that our newsroom heads dont' -- or won't -- acknowledge how much hard work we're putting in above our pay grades. I don't know how much longer I can do this, and it makes me really sad.

  8. Shifting work onto overtime-exempt managers is regular practice at Gannett. They label anyone a "manager" but many of them are not true managers by definition. At the Gannett rag I worked at, they called the online person a manager, but this person did not have firing and hiring powers -- a job that defines managers in a normal workplace. This person was worked like a dog -- basically the only person asked to babysit the Web site seven days a week with no relief.

  9. Then when the online editor asked for time off after working 21 days in row (like non-stop babysitting of the Web site), they said no. She basically had a mental breakdown at that point.

  10. Gannett has started outsourcing most ad production artists, including in Des Moines Register which just told 21 graphic designers their jobs are going to 2adpro and to take early retirement, or 1 week pay per year of service up to 52 weeks. Overtime is prohibited, except in time compensation. India is where all the ads are being outsourced. People are not trusting anyone. No job is safe.

  11. I had my patient/doctor privacy act violated by a VP over my department. And a disabiliity discrimination lawsuit. Does anyone outthere knows a real good attorney that would be hungry for a case like this. If your experiene has been similar please share. I smell a class action lawsuit!

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