It was like living in your very own, personal Charles Dickens novel.
You're familiar with Dickens's work, right? A Tale of Two Cities? David Copperfield? A Christmas Carol? (That's the one with Scrooge and Marley and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. OK, you got it now? No, not Tiny Tim the big hippie guy with the ukulele who sang "Tiptoe Through The Tulips," I'm talking about Tiny Tim the sick but spirited little boy who has a heart so big that he asks God to bless Scrooge, even through Scrooge is sticking it to all the poor and downtrodden folks in England on Christmas. Oh, and not David Copperfield the magician who made the Statue of Liberty disappear, but David Copperfield the novel that has a character of the same name who -- oh, why bother? This digression has lasted long enough. Blast that doggone English major.)
Anyway, it was around Christmas-time and the Scrooges of the world were sticking it to the Cratchits of the world, just like something out of a Dickens novel.
Specifically, it was December of 2009 and it was happening in newsrooms all over the country, all owned by one particular McPaper company.
Underpaid journalists were all reading a McMemo from the McCorporate McHigher-ups. The memo said that every last one of them was getting docked one day's pay before Christmas.
Geez, that old miser Scrooge complained about it, but even that cheap bastard agreed to pay Cratchit on Christmas Day. These guys are bigger jackasses than Scrooge!
The day would be considered a "furlough day." Every single employee, nationwide, had to find a day to not work, and every single employee would have that day deducted from his or her paycheck. Never mind that difficult holiday-week scheduling that had been done a month or so in advance would all be shot to hell, never mind that it would cause many employees to lose vacation pay that didn't carry over into the next year -- never mind that it was freaking CHRISTMAS, for crying out loud, and my kid wants a damn Twilight Barbie and maybe a Star Wars LEGO Fighter like Anakin's. Everyone was losing a day's pay, so everyone had to take a day off. If you couldn't arrange to take a day off, too bad, because you were being docked a day's pay regardless. That means everyone! Had the Baby Jesus worked for McPaper McNewspapers, the Baby Jesus would have been docked a day's pay. No room at the Inn. No gold. No frankincense. Maybe a little myrrh.
Why? What was the McPaper's reason for such a heartless, brainless decision?
Of course, the McPaper people in charge didn't see it as heartless or brainless -- they saw it as courageous and brilliant! So much so that they boasted about it! It was clear, right there in the memo to the employees. Hell, they sought out reporters in the trade magazines, just so they could get articles written up about how ingenious they were, so that corporate boards at other McPapers might be inclined to emulate them! They made sure to tell their investors what they had done, so the investors could see how brilliant and courageous they were, docking every single one of their employees a day's pay on Christmas!
Right there in the memo, it told the employees that the McPaper did not have the funds to pay some very important bills, including money owed to its biggest investor, and if they couldn't pay these bills, the company would likely go bankrupt. So, in order to save the McCompany, they had arbitrarily decided that every single employee was docked a day's pay, from the CEO all the way down to the part-time janitor (never mind that the janitor had quit a few months before and the McPaper hadn't yet freed up the funds to replace her, so the newsroom employees had been doing all the cleaning themselves).
Well la-dee-flootin-da! And Merry Freaking Christmas to you, too. We are all punished because you morons have no idea how to handle money. And you pretend you're heroes? You're saving the company and all of our jobs!
And never mind that I can't do that. Let's say that I'm short on funds and can't pay my car payment this month. Could I just send a memo to the company, arbitrarily telling them that I am going to work a couple unscheduled days this month, so they can just add a few hundred bucks to my paycheck? Do I have that option? Hell no -- in fact, according to the McCompany McBylaws, I'm not even allowed to work a second job of any kind to earn a few extra bucks. If I do so much as open up a Kool-Aid stand in my front yard, McPaper sends in goons to bust it up.
But don't you see how fair it is? Even the CEO is being docked a day's pay? Don't you get it? This is very fair!
Well, since you put it like that, I will agree, it is very fair. As soon as I get to play CEO on her furlough day, and she gets to play "guy who types up 27 pages of swim results and takes obit calls and edits and lays out the B-Section until 1 a.m. on Christmas night" on my furlough day, I will agree it's very fair.
Welcome to furlough days -- something that every McPaper company has tried, and one has stuck with for four straight years now. Never mind the now-infamous Christmas Furlough, this company has docked its employees one week of pay every fiscal quarter since 2009. That's one full month's salary, taken out of your check, every single year since 2009. They don't even send a memo out anymore, they just assume that the employees will accept it as common practice. It is no longer the exception, it's the rule. All the brilliant journalism critics out there who sit and type up drivel about the coming death of newspapers won't tell you about the furloughs. They'll talk about the Internet and the economy and the loss of classified ads and a dozen other things, but they don't mention how their comrades-in-ink are getting fully shafted by furloughs, among other things, and how much that kills the business, far and wide.
Heck, the company even changed the name from "furloughs" to "DO-WOP Days." That stands for "Days Off With Out Pay." See, when you call them "DO-WOP Days," that makes it sound fun, like you are going to a dance. Change the language and suddenly getting painfully screwed is a good time -- but now we're talking more about Orwell and less about Dickens.
What's your salary? $25,000? Well no, actually it's about $22,000. You're an experienced editor who makes a whopping $30,000 per year? Well, actually, you make $27,500 per year, but who's counting? What's $2500 anyway? Just some food and diapers for your new baby? Don't sweat it, we need that money to pay our investors more than your kid needs to eat and crap. You say you spent four years in college and expect to be paid like a professional? Get a new line of work, my friend.
I won't go into how this company has also been on a salary freeze since 2007, because if I do, I will have to stick a sharp pencil into my skull to stab my brain so the pain distracts me from my anger.
And that's just one more way newspapers are committing suicide. It's not the Internet. It's not the price of paper. It's the people running the papers who have no idea what they are doing. They don't MEAN to treat their employees like crap -- in fact, they actually believe they are treating their employees well. Because their employees are not people to them, they are an expense -- and they don't work for a newspaper, they don't even work for a business. They work for an INVESTMENT. They work for other people's pension money, for someone else's bottom line.
I suppose that Tiny Tim would still bless the McPapers, every one. But Tiny Tim had a great spirit and a huge heart. When it comes to McPapers, I don't.
Sorry, Mr. Dickens.
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