Thursday, February 11, 2010

Urgent: USAT extends wage freeze, adds furlough; Hunke memo: 'recovery still appears inconsistent'

The following memo was just distributed by USA Today Publisher Dave Hunke (left) to the paper's 1,000-plus employee workforce. His note comes after USAT's fourth-quarter paid advertising pages fell 10.5%, to 705 from 788, in the year-ago quarter, Gannett said in its most recent financial release.

Gannett's other U.S. newspapers plus some other business units are already on furloughs this quarter, with no guarantee they won't continue in the future. Plus, much of the rest of Gannett is under a one-year wage freeze scheduled until April 1. Hunke's memo follows a layoff of at least 26 USAT employees two months ago.

To: USA TODAY Colleagues
Fr: Dave Hunke
Dt: February 11, 2010

As you'll recall, USA TODAY took a number of significant cost containment steps approximately one year ago in reaction to the rapidly deteriorating national economy. Among the decisions, we specifically instituted furloughs and a wage freeze. Recently, some business conditions have improved slightly. That’s a good sign. However, national advertising revenues in general were still down from the previous year as were paid advertising pages at USA TODAY. Business travel and hotel occupancy, and consequently, circulation sales continued to be lower in Q4 -- all the while the nation's economic recovery still appears inconsistent and unsure.

As a result, USA TODAY will implement the following steps:

All employees will be furloughed for one full week (Sunday through Saturday) during the time period of Sunday, February 28 through Saturday, July 3, 2010. To be clear, a furlough means no one will be permitted to work while on furlough and no one will be exempt, except for business necessity. That means when you are on furlough, there is no work, no office phone calls, no voice mail, no e-mail and no PDA checking. Exempt, salaried employees must take one full payroll week within the pay period. Non-exempt, hourly employees can take five days at any pre-approved time. All furloughs must be completed by July 3rd. If you are not sure which category you are in, check with your manager.

The one year moratorium on pay increases which went into effect on February 1, 2009, will be extended for a minimum of an additional 90 days. We will evaluate business conditions on a quarterly basis and institute a fair and equitable compensation increase plan as soon as conditions permit. This is a top priority and we will do our best to keep you well informed on our progress.


  1. This memo was forwarded to me by a reader, who added the following note; I've redacted an individual's name to protect his privacy:

    "Wow. Hunke has great timing. [XXXX] broke his leg (must undergo surgery today) walking from the Hilton to the office to help put the paper out during the blizzard."

  2. This doesn't bode well for the rest of us.

  3. I cannot say I am surprised by this. Gannett is doing what it thinks it needs to do to survive (and still afford those nice salaries, and bonuses to the top dogs), all in the name of retention and competition of course.
    I am so glad I left that place last year when I did. Things are so much different...vastly different! From the people I work with, to the work itself. I enjoy going to work. I enjoy what I am doing and the people I do it for. I take pride in my work. It’s no longer a daily slog.
    With the furloughs, and wage freezes, (not to mention constantly needing to be connected) I would easily have been taking quite a hit on the pay front (and work/life balance front). But since leaving, and taking a new job and getting a nice bump there, plus another one with my annual review, which wasn't the measly 3% bullshit increase for working your ass off, I am doing very well.
    Someone on here once said, “If you don't like it, then leave”. I did. Thanks for the advice, life it too short to hate where you work.

  4. I did what 1:44pm suggested. I got tired of the way Gannett was going and I left. Fortunately I worked in a technical capacity and there's still some jobs available for me. For reporters, it's a lot harder.

  5. Furloughs, layoffs, pay freezes...perhaps it is time to chuck it and find something else to do.

  6. Hey are just now realizing this...?

  7. Thank God I'm gotta there. Still watching for the ship to sink.

  8. And some of the folks who defend corporate want to know why rank and file are upset?

    This announcement coming on the heals of Martore's raise is exactly why people are upset. If the corporate capos were really concerned about the company's future they would forego their raises but take better care of worker bees who keep the newspaper afloat, frequently without the recognition they deserve or overtime they're earned.

  9. Seriously, people, is it worth it anymore? It became clear three years ago that USAT was getting out of the journalism business. I don't think anyone really knows where it's going, but I do suspect it's to a place where most of us won't be welcomed. They are nudging and nudging us out. Yep, maybe it's about the economy. But it's also about wanting to clear the decks and start over. The old guard might be able to hold on a bit longer to make it to retirement, especially since there are few jobs to be found elsewhere. But if I was under 40, I'd leave this sinking ship asap. Life is too short to work in such a negative environment. Can't even believe I am saying that because this was once a great place build a career.

  10. Wake up Gannett employees and realize that the Gannett we knew 20 years ago is GONE! Thankfully I made the jump from the sinking ship and have found life after Gannett to be inspiring. It has to get old waking up every day wondering if you have a job, are you getting furloughed, will they cut your pay and who in my office is trying to make me look bad in order to keep their job! Trust among employees with co-workers and supervisors has to be non-existant! The cororate culture that once seperated Gannett from other companies is gone. Wake up people and do something that will improve your health, career, family life and future by getting out. Don't wait thinking that things will improve because the Gannett ship is going down like the Titanic.......

  11. You never know: USA Today could win its first Pulitzer this year, for the much lauded toxic schools project, when the prizes are announced April 12. That would be a second consecutive win for Publisher Hunke.

  12. Jim, if USA TODAY wins a Pulitzer, it won't be for the (excellent) Toxic Schools series of stories. Those were published in 2008 and were entered in last year's competition.

  13. It's time to talk some reality about USA TODAY.

    Never mind that 26 people were laid off in December. Another couple dozen reporters, editors and designers left on their own for other jobs in the last year or so. They've gone away to NPR, to PR jobs and other journalism gigs that seem plentiful and increasingly attractive here in Washington, D.C. Plenty more have left from marketing and advertising because they saw no future here.

    These were good, smart people. Only one or two has been replaced. This creates a problem. It's horrible when good people are laid off. It's even more tragic when they start walking out en masse under their own steam, and it has created a real problem that Mr. Hunke is unwilling to address. Better jobs are easy to come by and that there's no good reason for anyone to stick around.

    Unfortunately, today's announcement will have many more people looking for the exit. It sends the message that we just don't matter. Our families don't matter. Our futures don't matter. What matters is that Gannett will get its wish of a much smaller payroll.

    We can do better than this.

  14. It strikes me that the nation's economic recovery will continue to be "inconsistent and unsure" as long as employees are wrung dry so that poorly performing management can generate positive earnings where there would otherwise be none.

  15. Very odd time-frame there, Feb 28-to July 3, crossing two quarters (really part of a third).

    I think the furloughs will continue until the headcount reductions stop. That's the permenent cost-savings. The furloughs are just a way to get the cost savings in the interim while they work thru the permenent reductions. That's why furloughs stopped in Broadcasting --they ran out of people to furlough and still be able to function. They can barely cover vacations, and god forbid somebody get sick while somebody else is on vacation. . .


Jim says: "Proceed with caution; this is a free-for-all comment zone. I try to correct or clarify incorrect information. But I can't catch everything. Please keep your posts focused on Gannett and media-related subjects. Note that I occasionally review comments in advance, to reject inappropriate ones. And I ignore hostile posters, and recommend you do, too."

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