Saturday, January 10, 2009

Are you ready to take a one-week pay cut?

In another cost-reduction move, tipsters say, Gannett is about to announce that U.S. newspaper workers -- as many as 30,000 -- will be required to give up a week's pay in the current quarter. If true, the unpaid furloughs could be one more ingredient in the rumored February payroll cut. Another unknown: Whether any of this applies to Newsquest, broadcast or other businesses.

An announcement would likely be presented this way: Everyone gets to take an extra week's vacation (fun!) -- but they won't get paid for it (not so fun!). That's how The Seattle Times sold the news to staff last month.

But, let's get real: Many conscientious or just-plain-scared employees at the Detroit Free Press and other Gannett papers will work right through an unpaid week off for a simple reason: because they can. Their jobs require only a computer, Internet access and a cellphone. The pressure will be huge to "just check e-mail now and then" or "make a few quick phone calls" while on these unpaid vacations.

Comparing to unpaid OT
Readers are already praising -- and dreading -- Gannett's possible move. "It sure would be better than laying more workers off or more downsizing of the papers,'' Anonymous@5:38 p.m wrote yesterday. "But man, oh, man, it's rough when someone goes on vacation to get the extra work done. . . . I shudder at the thought of everyone in my department getting an 'extra' week off."

Anonymous@5:56 p.m. brought it back to reality: "With all the unpaid overtime that's talked about here, does that really mean you'll have to go to work without punching in for that week?"

The current quarter ends March 31. Assuming this goes through, plan on supervisors telling you that these weeks must be booked by the end of the third period -- company accounting lingo for March. (When does third period end this year?)

Is 401(k) next?
A reader asks whether the company's contributions to employee 401(k) retirement accounts are endangered. That sounds possible to me, even though it's been only seven months since Gannett froze the pension plan for all but a few. Indeed, what other steps might Corporate take soon, beyond furloughs, layoffs and possible further cuts to benefits? Is anyone hearing about newsroom features department jobs getting targeted?

And speaking of Detroit . . .
That's today's Freep front page, from the Newseum. I thought I saw a comment saying the Freep is freezing all non-union wages this year. But now I can't find it. Can anyone confirm -- and add details?

Please post your replies in the comments section, below. To e-mail confidentially, write gannettblog[at]gmail[dot-com]; see Tipsters Anonymous Policy in the green sidebar, upper right.


  1. Sure thing. I just wonder how well it'll be administered and communicated at the local levels. In Wilmington, the layoffs and subsequent holidays so threw the newsroom management off kilter that no one yet knows whether their vacation requests for 2009 will go through. People still have until the 15th to submit them!

  2. No way I'm walking into my newsroom if I'm not getting paid for it.

    They've drummed Kronos into our heads and if I swipe then I get paid.

  3. I work at another newspaper where unpaid time off was requested in an attempt to avoid layoffs.

    I did NOT log into ANY of my work e-mail or work-related Internet accounts during my unpaid days, even though I can access some of that offsite and could make arrangements for the other portals if I really wanted to.

    Given the fact that we were specifically told not to come into the office on unpaid days even after hours, that just seemed the sensible thing to do.

    I did take my days off one at a time to even out the hit on my family budget, so my hands-off approach on selected days wasn't a problem.

    I don't think any of my customers knew what happened. I just left a voice mail that I'd be "out of the office" on such-and-such date, and my co-workers checked my e-mail for urgent stuff.

    I don't know, however, if the Gannettoids will be given a schedule option?

  4. See attached.

    Sent: Thursday, January 08, 2009 3:52 PM
    DetroitFreePress-All; DetroitNewspaperPartnership-All
    We will not be awarding merit pay increases for non-bargaining employees for the 2009 calendar year. It is important for you to know this includes the entire executive committee and me.

    We know that everyone is working hard and that you all want the company to succeed. We are hopeful that the launch of our new strategic plan will allow us to reinstate merit increases in the future.

    Thank you for your continued support and understanding.

    David L. Hunke
    Publisher, Detroit Free Press
    CEO, Detroit Media Partnership

  5. If unpaid time off is forced on us, anyone who works during that period is an idiot. Also, if we are to believe that the situation is so dire as to require unpaid time off, then we'd better see the goddamn dividend disappear, too. Otherwise, it's money STRAIGHT from my pocket into someone else's.

    And, while we're at it, let's see Dubow and Martore work for $1 each this year. If they haven't saved enough from their millions in comp during years past, that's their problem. I guarantee you that I will miss a week's pay more than Dubow will miss a year's!

  6. Is it "one week" or "one paycheck"? You say both.

  7. I heard that all Information Center employees will be required to type with only one hand, preferably their non-dominant hand, and that everyone's pay will be reduced by half to correspond to their new skill levels. As proof, I offer the same documentation as everyone else who's "heard" something. And like the other posters, I'm trying to add to the anxiety levels of all Gannettoids who already are stressed. Hopefully, Jim will play this up, because it truly is a unique approach.

  8. 9:28 pm: I meant a week's pay throughout this post. Also, I guess this would not apply to the relatively small number of unionized employees, because they have contracts. Plus, I assume this would apply to base pay only. I also don't know how this would work with commission-based employees, like those in ad sales.

  9. In reference to a Freep wage freeze, you may have misread the article involving a proposal to freeze the wages of city workes in Detroit, in order to save 428 city workers from being laid off.

  10. There is something terribly wrong cutting paychecks of the rank and file while still giving 19 percent dividends to wealthy people with GCI stock.

  11. I'm a former employee and at my new company, we had an unpaid week as well.

    Unlike the situation where there is the "hint" to check email, etc... while on vacation, management was extremely strict that we MUST not perform any work related items while on unpaid leave.

    In fact, I had a 15 minute conference call pre-scheduled on one of my days off that when my boss found out about it, he moved my unpaid day off and had me take it again. Now, I have a cool boss, so he just let me have that extra day.

    The big difference is that while on vacation, you are still being paid for that time.

  12. Am I ready to take a one-week pay cut?

    Hell no.

    I am more ready to kick my rear end into gear and look for other employment.

    This is absolutely ridiculous. What is the guarantee they won't come to us again and tell us to take another pay cut, this time COMING TO WORK? How about working 6 weeks w/o getting paid?

    This HAS to be a method to reduce payroll and labor. I definitely know that if I'm not already determined to reduce myself out of Gannett, I'm right on the verge.

    Not get paid a week, my rear end. I'd rather at least keep some semblance of pride by flipping burgers at Burger King than let Gannett kill it with its constant, relentless, unceasing b.s.

    I think I'm talking myself into giving my 2 weeks notice...

  13. I was going to suggest that they allow any and all employees 2 weeks paid vacation. Period. That's the standard. Then you don't have to worry about covering those employees' workload with yet another week of "vacation". But every time I read/think about the honchos in corporate and all their perks and bonuses, I think perhaps an honest-to-God STRIKE would be in order. Maybe starting with the inauguration. Oh, what am I saying; you're all a bunch of wimps you would never take that kind of a stand. And they know it.

  14. Do reporters punch the time clock? If so, how do you do that for all the times you get phone calls and emails at home?

  15. I have a radical idea: How about all of the publishers turn in their company cars? At least it would show us peons that management is "suffering," too.

  16. If Gannett forces unpaid vacation on its employees and cuts their 401Ks while preserving its huge dividend, you are no longer working for a struggling or cheap company. You are working for an immoral company, and you should give that sort of company the kind of respect and attention it deserves.

  17. 1:54 AM

    You might be fighting for that job at Burger King. Be careful what you wish for.

  18. 6:43:

    Unless you're in a workplace with a collective bargaining agreement, a "strike" likely would be viewed as job abandonment. That doesn't seem a particularly bright idea, with thousands of recently unemployed newspaper people out there looking for work.

    Since this whole thread is being driven by unsourced "reports" about steps Gannett will take, coming from people we don't know and without even the most basic offer of proof, I think a deep breath is in order. Sure, dividends need to come down or be eliminated and executive compensation needs to be adjusted to correspond to the current company realities. But worrying about unpaid weeks off and other rumors that are floated accomplishes nothing.

    There are some posters on here who get a kick out of ramping up anxiety. They deliberately plant false rumors, like the one the other day about some mysterious spike in stock activity that was disproven with a cursory look at trading stats. That sucks in this current environment. I'd put these people in the category of "abusive posters" and take Jim's advice to ignore them.

  19. Our paper had a rule that if you worked, whether at home or on your day off, the paper had to pay you for that time. I thought it was a federal law.

    I know a lawsuit was filed and won regarding time worked and not paid. Papers had to retro thousands of dollars to time not paid.

    I think if an unpaid vacation is implemented, workers cannot be made to work. There are many devoted reporters who will just because of their work ethic.

  20. Remember what someone said earlier:
    Wage and hour, wage and hour, wage and hour.

  21. The problem is that in small departments, such as mine, our ubpaid overtime grows almost equal to the hours any co-worker is missing on leave.

    Leave time doesn't change the amount of work that has to get done -- by someone.

    If this does happen, I think the best statement of resistance, and legality, would be for the exempt staff to go home after 7.5 hours and tell the managing editor "good luck" getting the rest of it done. There's nothing legally Gannett can do to you in such circumstances.

    It isn't some unusual occurrence making you work longer hours; it's a planned reduction in staff. That means, the top management has planned for how to get the work done in 7.5 hours from those who remain.

  22. I don't agree that someone with a strong work ethic is someone who works for free. Hourly employees lie when they don't claim all hours worked. Lying is certainly a reflection of work ethic, but certainly not something any reporter should be proud of.

  23. If we lost a week's pay, what would happen to those things that come out of that pay, such as insurance? I would guess that it would be taken out twice the following week?

    Also, I'm exempt and I have no idea how much vacation time I didn't take last year. It was probably two weeks worth.

    This is depressing.

  24. Re:anon@10:08 "Do reporters punch the time clock? If so, how do you do that for all the times you get phone calls and emails at home?"

    No timeclock in my newsroom. Every 2 weeks you submit hours (and it better be 40 or less) to the exec editor. They don't force you to lie but don't let you claim overtime either, except in extraordinary and pre-approved times. They say make up overtime later in the week. But when you've already worked 40+ hours before Friday and you have 3 stories due, there isn't much hope to reclaim the time worked. I wouldn't believe any editor from lowest to highest who said (s)he didn't know that was going on.

  25. thought: if your site has 340 employees at an average rate of 21.50 it would be an annual savings of $292k. If every employee that makes over 100k including bonuses take a 10% paycut I would estimate the savings to be around $200k. Est. $25k from a publisher. So why should the workers that produce the product have to loss a weeks pay.

  26. Workers who produce have to take time off to cuts costs? Makes me wonder why they don't slice in half that $600,000 that's paid to a retiree, I believe it was, to work half-time. Seems like an ethics problem to me.

  27. Damn! That's $50 I'll never get back.

  28. 3:56

    The appropriate thing to do if you're being forced to work unpaid overtime is to tell your boss that you can't complete the three assigned stories because you've already worked 40 hours that week.

    Of course, tell them you will gladly complete the stories if they OK you for overtime. They won't, you'll get the time off and all will be fine. If it plays out any other way and you're an hourly employee, your site is breaking labor laws and the threat of a lawsuit will keep them in line.

    This is no time to let people walk all over you.

  29. Seems to me if we had established a national union years ago, this could be stopped.
    Maybe that will be a possibility under Obama? I've heard he wants to change labor laws.

  30. I may be in the minority, but I would be happy to have another week of vacation, even unpaid. I would find some cheap little place and head out with the family. I wouldn't bring work with me, and I'd enjoy it. To me this is much more desirable than seeing my coworkers (or self) hacked off the payroll.

    Americans in general, and newspaper-types specifically, need a break from work. Two weeks doesn't cut it.

  31. What's the Guild's role in all of this?


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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