Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hurricane Gustav sparks overtime pay questions

[Storm tracker: the Hattiesburg American's homepage, moments ago]

Updated at 9:54 p.m. ET. As the mammoth storm stalks the Gulf Coast, readers are debating OT policy in today's edition of Real Time Comments. A sampling:
  • "Hattiesburg American news staff has been told it has to spend the night at the paper if Gustaf hits Monday. Do they have to pay us overtime for forcing us to do this?"
  • "We're in Gustav's path and the salaried employees have been told they are essential, which means we're supposed to be at work during the worst of the storm."
  • "Anyone who doesn't WANT to be at the newspaper when a hurricane hits the town they cover isn't much of a journalist. Overtime? That's the last thing anyone should be thinking about. It's a calling, people."
[Today's print front page, from the Newseum]


  1. Why would a storm be an excuse for Gannett to violate wage-and-hour laws? Plus, if journalism is a "calling," shouldn't GCI's shareholders be willing to sacrifice their dividends in the form of paying employees for time worked?

    Gannett is making less money than a year ago, but it's still an enormously profitable company.

  2. I think journalists (and by this I mean everyone -- not just the newsroom employees) who stay in the path of a major hurricane are heroes. I also think they have an obligation to stay and get the paper out.

    Put in the OT for all time you are actually working (not sleeping in a break room). They have to pay it.

    Managers are told in no uncertain terms to mitigate the need for OT (mostly by having exempt middle managers stay and finish whatever it is that isn't done or rearrange the deck chairs on budgets fast to compensate for a story that isn't coming...), and demand that staffers report the need for OT so it can be approved/denied prior to actually working it. But they also are told that if the time is worked (even when not approved ahead of time) it MUST be paid.

    I am not saying this is the world's fairest policy (and I'm not saying there aren't consequences for an employees who exceeds hours without asking first), but it isn't illegal as long as employees are paid for all time worked.

    I want to thank ahead of time the journalists who will report this huge story - from all of us. I hope you are safe, your families are safe and that your community is spared.

  3. I would pay ya all double-time. The rest of the country will watch, worry and pray for you folks as you get hit again. Our hearts go out to you and we will be viewing the news broadcasts as well as the newspapers for updates on your impending disaster and recovery efforts. Our best to you all!!

  4. Yep, it's a calling. Yep, any real journalist should want to be there should a hurricane hit. Should they pay you OT for hours worked? Absolutely. Last I heard, Lincoln freed the slaves...

  5. I'll pose this here, like I did in another forum:

    Who, exactly, has said the people who work through the storm won't be fairly compensated for their time?

    Seems like some are getting their nickers in a knot over something that hasn't even happened.

  6. mr. yesterday, it's simply a reaction to past history and current events. Gannett is cost-cutting in ways that most of us wouldn't have believed even 5 years ago. So it's reasonable for people to ask whether they'll shirk their responsibility to pay OT. After all, if they're shirking their responsibility to get directly deposited paychecks into employees' accounts on time, what reason is there to believe they will do what they are responsible for doing now? Bitter and cynical, you bet. Five years under one of Gannett's most abusive managers will do that to you.

  7. If the company is truly in cost-cutting mode, why would the Hattiesburg managers require staff to stay overnight? It especially baffles me since the sister paper in Jackson has two reporters posted near the coast, and the Louisiana Gannett papers are giving regular updates. Isn't USA Today covering the storm too? Where's the coordination of coverage that would surely cut down having to pay an entire newsroom to sleep at the office? Sounds like a power and control thing to me. Hope those Hattiesburg reporters get paid for every minute they're forced to spend away from their families.

  8. I was a Gannett loaner during Katrina and racked up 70+ hours of OT in addition to the 40 hours I worked in a single week. When I returned to my home paper, I was yelled at by my editors and told I should not have worked any OT. (Sure, because I was just going to walk out the door when everyone else was putting in 14-hour days.) Management wanted ME to eat the OT but I persisted and got half in cash, half in comp time. If you work, stick to your guns and get paid for it! Because they're not going to volunteer to give you the money.

  9. When you say cash, do you mean time-and-a half?

  10. Reporters who worked overtime at Louisiana newspapers during Katrina got paid overtime. If they work overtime this week, they'll get paid overtime again.
    USA Today reporters and local reporters worked as a team during Katrina. They're going to do that again.
    For goodness sakes, no need for speculation about what outrage might be foisted on people here.
    Personally, I'd love to be down there reporting this storm. This is NEWS people. And it may be hitting the gulf coast, but it will affect all our lives.
    The stories coming out of the small Louisiana newspapers before, during and after Katrina were as heroic as the reporters who wrote them.

  11. Shirley, you're right. It is news. But Gannett has changed the rules of engagement for all of us. They would gladly suck up profits at the expense of employees, and that is why everyone is concerned about what may happen. Gannett has created this situation. I was brought up in the tradition of "don't expect a 40-hour workweek," but back when I got into journalism, there was a reward for the sacrifice. You received thanks; you received raises that meant something; you received overtime and it wasn't questioned or begrudged. It was seen as a cost of doing business as a NEWSpaper. Gannett has lost sight of what it really means to be a newspaper. It isn't lame reader contest after lame reader contest. It's telling them what's going on in their backyards better than anyone else. Being a NEWS organization means that sometimes you're going to need to pay OT to cover a story that breaks at midnight and is updated throughout the night and well into the next day, and paying that OT without begrudging the people it, without berating them for "not managing their time" when they spent hours editing video for the website, and putting photos into a photo gallery on the web and oh, yeah, provided timely photos for the next day's paper.

    Gannett expects its staff to act like a NEWS organization, but doesn't want to pay the costs associated with really putting out a useful product that makes readers want to buy it.

  12. I was a newsroom manager in the NJ group. Upper level management encouraged you to find ways to avoid paying people OT - you were to "adjust their schedule" to send them home early in the week, or encourage comp time. Legally you couldn't carry comp time over to the next time period, but many reporters WANTED to accumulate some comp time to take long weekends, etc. Everyone who worked for me worked damn hard, and they deserved every minute of their OT. But it was a constant struggle to get reporters OT. When I had the temerity to complain to the EE that I was tired of ripping reporters off by not paying OT, I got my head handed to me big time. So I can understand why the Hattiesburg reporters are apprehensive...

  13. What amazes me is that managers will NEVER get an accurate reading on work flow and reasonable expectations as long as people are encouraged or forced to work for free.

    I'm assuming companies make certain assumptions and base plans (like grand transformations) on those assumptions. A bunch of employees working for free could blow the assumptions all to hell.

  14. I'm the Gannett loaner that posted previously. No, I just got paid my regular hours, not time-and-a-half. They wouldn't budge on that. They also yelled at me when I tried to expense some replacement clothing, such as shoes and jeans for when I ruined stuff walking in the floodwaters. But I'd go down there tomorrow to be part of the story. Just got to watch out for yourself as well and try to make Gannett comply with the law.

  15. 9:35, I'm so glad to see someone back that up. I think it's safe to say that all of us who were not management knew where it was coming from. I personally would've been happy with an "attaboy" once in a while and the comp time, though OT occasionally would've been nice, too. Thanks for standing up for people. Just remember, that EE will get the karma earned and deserved.

  16. 9:35, one more thing: I hope you get rewarded somewhere along the line for trying to stand up for what's right. I know it won't be with Gannett, but I'll be praying for you to be rewarded for the good you tried to do.

  17. From U.S. Dept. of Labor:

    "Covered nonexempt employees must receive overtime pay for hours worked over 40 per workweek (any fixed and regularly recurring period of 168 hours — seven consecutive 24-hour periods) at a rate not less than one and one-half times the regular rate of pay."

    If you are anything but a supervising editor who tells other people what to do and when, you are a "covered nonexempt employee." If you work more than 40 hours week -- whether it was signed off in advance or not --- you MUST BE PAID OVERTIME. Comp time is actually illegal.

    If you are bullied or threatened or refused when you file for payment of overtime you worked, you are the victim of a federal crime. You should report it to your closest Dept of Labor office. (You will need copies of your accurate time sheets.)

    Gannett has been been playing this see-no-overtime, pay-no-overtime BS for decades. They say they will pay overtime, but insist every minute be approved in advance, then offer no venue for doing so.

    How many of you have tried to tell your editor that you've already worked 40 hours when a story is breaking, or the desk is asking for changes or they hand you a new assignment two hours after you should have been out the door? How do they respond to that?

    Gannett imposes this chainwide forced-unpaid-OT system by hammering the middle managers. They are skinned alive when their reporters turn in time sheets showing OT, at the same time they are skinned alive for not squeezing maximum production -- no questions allowed -- from their overtaxed staffs.

    They myth of the 40-hour work week is the dirty little secret of Gannett and other news organizations, who know that most of their employees have no union protection and are too dedicated (or intimidated) to refuse to be exploited on wage-and-hour issues.

    Not gonna change until many, many more employees start forcing the company to face up to what it is doing.

    Keep clear records of how many hours you work. When you get to, say, 35 hours, say so. When they give you an assignment you cannot finish without going into OT, say so. If they reject your OT claims or change your time sheets, call the Dept. of Labor.

    No matter how dedicated you are to journalism, you have no obligation to sustain this company with unlimited free labor.

  18. Is it legal for NON-SALARIED employees to do the COMP TIME THING instead of being paid?
    And how about the practice of working the OT @ time and a half,then being told to go home early (comp time)@ straight time?

  19. @ 11:30 a.m.

    First question: No.

    Second question: Only if it takes place within a single week to keep your total at 40 hrs or less.


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