Star-Telegram invites ’shell-shocked’ staff to hit door

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Posted August 13, 2008 by Online Exclusive in The Daily Weekly

Wow, the latest ultimatum to ‘Fort Worth Star-Telegram’ employees is mind-blowing. The company invited almost every fulltime employee to pick up their sorry asses and leave and don’t let the door hit ‘em on the way out. Numbers crunchers call it a separation package — sounds so much nicer than a get-the-hell-out package.


A recently laid off employee said the company gave employees until Sept. 4 to take a voluntary separation, and if enough don’t take the bait, then the involuntary layoffs begin.

“Everybody is like a deer in the headlights,” said the former employee who maintains close ties to current workers. “It’s an unbelievable nightmare.”

To summarize: Fort Worth’s flagship newspaper is sold to the McClatchy chain that considers bottom line profits and happy stockholders more important than quality journalism. In March, some design and production jobs were outsourced to India. The next month, more than a dozen people – mostly mid-level editor types — were laid off. Next, the paper hocked one its downtown buildings and several parking lots.

A round of layoffs in June left the ranks decimated and scared.

And then this morning an email goes out telling employees across the board – reporters, graphic designers, printers, deliverers, editors, computer techs, commode cleaners, spark plug changers, whomever – that they’re invited to leave…and to be quick about it.

But don’t worry, loyal readers, Publisher Gary Wortel assures everyone that, “overall, we remain committed to producing a quality product for our customers.”

Huh? Most readers have already noted the decline in quality.

Employees who take the separation package are being offered two weeks of pay for every year worked up to 26 weeks, a source said.

Here are the sentiments from a current Star-Telegram employee who’s still reeling after getting the email this morning (the employee requested anonymity for fear of being terminated if caught talking to ‘Fort Worth Weekly’):

“Everybody got an email about 9 a.m. and it said by 10, if you were a fulltime employee, you would be getting a packet that explained you were eligible for a voluntary buyout. It was just two months ago we went through this. You’ve got people with families who don’t want to do it.

The market is saturated and it’s not a great time to go out and try to pick up where you left off. There is a lot of bitterness that this is never ending. How far down can you cut it? It’s down to the bare bones.

If not enough people decide to take it, it goes to a layoff. And if it goes to a layoff, there are a lot of people who think they won’t get offered a package at that point. But that’s total speculation. Everybody feels it’s like getting the wind knocked out of our sails. [Wortel's] emails always come out from his secretary, and every time one comes across your email you know it’s more bad news. Everybody is walking around shell-shocked. It’s a little hard to focus on the task at hand.
You’ve got a paper to put out and deadlines to meet but…. “

I interjected to remind her that Wortel’s quote in today’s article assures everyone the paper’s quality will remain high and that this latest action only represents a changing “business model.”

“It’s a little bit of a joke,” the employee continued. “You have a skeletal crew and you expect them to produce what X number of people were doing before and it’s getting harder and harder to do that. The term that cracks me up is they keep saying our new ‘economic model.’

That’s the chant they keep saying over and over again. They don’t want the public thinking the Star-T is going down the tubes. You have some people who say they are trying to strip it down to the walls. You get a lot of theories, but some people are thinking they are stripping it down and then selling it. In the entire history of the Star-Telegram we’ve never had this much negative change in regard to employees as we have had since the takeover. It doesn’t seem like its ever going to end.”

 


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