Category Archives: Layoffs/Buyouts

The latest round of layoffs at the Star

These new layoffs – the fifth round of layoffs conducted at the Star in the past five years – didn’t cut deeply into the heart of the news operation as have some of the past cuts, didn’t remove layers of coverage as some have before. By and large, it may go unnoticed by readers.

But the layoffs Monday of 11 people still hurts and it once again revives an old fear that had subsided a bit in the two years since the last layoffs – that the knife of force reductions can be brought out with little notice.

Monday’s casualty list – 3 copy editors, 3 clerks, 2 custodians, a part-time photographer, a part-time graphic artist and an assistant calendar editor – were removed from the front lines of the newsgathering process by a layer or more.

Yet there are some things still troubling about Monday’s effort at – how did management characterize it – this “right sizing.”

First, the Star’s copy desk is getting thinner, the protective layers between publication and error prevention just got leaner. This started with deep cuts to the desk two years ago and shows little sign of being turned back. Plans that were in the works to retool the desk had to be scrapped as these new cuts were made.

Second, this right sizing effort seemed to save money for the company by reducing people with some of the smallest salaries – two custodians, three clerks, a calendar editor and a part-time photo editor. In the world of setting priorities for a leaner business, these jobs may seem less important than they once were. But we find it interesting that, while two management positions were cut, people at the bottom continue to be expendable when corners of management that seem superfluous – and where salaries are more robust – still remain intact.

Third, the Star continues to be a less than hospitable place for its most veteran staffers. We’re still gathering data but seven of the nine newsroom staffers let go Monday had more than 30 years experience. This follows issues that other veteran employees have faced in recent months, from the worst evaluations of their careers to demotions. This is a serious matter we will look further into.

Finally, what is it about Summer at the Star? We’ve had layoffs here in August 2008, July 2009, June 2011 and now July 2013. Most often, the layoffs have been corporate ordered reductions that have come at the end of bad revenue figures in the second quarter, as if executives start to worry their year-end bonuses are in jeopardy without a little cost cutting. We know the industry and its ad revenues have been shrinking, but it’s getting to where you want to hold on to your vacation until the summer layoff season passes.

In this instance, this surgical strike seems solely directed by Star Media publisher Karen Crotchfelt, who along with Editor Jeff Taylor, say it reflects our priority of having more boots on the ground. Both deserve credit in the past year for adding back reporters — namely for investigations, business, higher education, breaking news and features. But after they’ve been trying to tell the community we’re evolving, and that our business is transforming instead of dying, moves like Monday’s muddle the message, try as they might to see that the message goes unnoticed. It especially muddles the message for the employees who remain behind, and who are weary of being told by management that “we’re still bullish about our business.” We’ve heard that message through five layoffs now. It’s beginning to wear a little thin.

Here’s a solution: Hire some people who can sell advertising on the internet. Get some folks there who can think creatively enough to generate some new damned revenue streams. And make sure the next person who runs advertising doesn’t show up at the corporate meetings and perform the same happy song and dance routine without some results. That’s wearing a little thin, too.

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Misinformation about your health care coverage

The Star’s personnel office acknowledged Monday that there has been a major error in the information it has been giving laid-off employees about their post-employment health care coverage.

Since the June 21 layoffs, The Star has been telling workers that their health insurance would last only until June 30. From there, workers would need to find new coverage. Some did just that, searching out and purchasing new plans. Others who saw their benefits were ending abruptly, went out and spent hundreds of dollars from their flexible spending accounts, thinking that money was about to disappear.

Now, The Star’s personnel office says the company’s health care coverage didn’t end abruptly on June 30. Instead, it says the coverage will last as long as an employee’s severance payments. A worker with 12 weeks severance, for instance, would also have health coverage for 12 weeks.

Needless to say this is a striking change from the information provided at the time of the layoffs.

Olivia LaMelle, the Star’s human resources director, accepted responsibility for the mistake. She also asked that former workers contact her if they spent money on new health plans or incurred other problems based on the bad information. She said The Star would attempt to remedy the situation.

The Guild urges you to take her up on her offer, and to let us know how well she does. You might even want to copy us in on emails you send in to notify The Star about your experience.

LaMelle said she would be issuing a letter to laid-off workers within the next two days regarding the mistake. Aside from detailing the problem, the letter should also contain The Star’s latest calculation of the severance benefits you should expect to receive. This new calculation, she said, would take into account provisions from previous contracts up until 2002 that allowed for 2 weeks severance for each year of work.

The Guild understands that this whole episode has unnecessarily added stress and strain — and for some, financial expense — that wasn’t needed during an already stressful situation.

We hope the acknowledgement of this error and a pledge to remedy its damage will help ease one of the burdens of this bad situation. Please let us know how it goes.

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A Fresh Look at a New Career

To help our friends who recently lost their jobs, the Guild is proud to sponsor a daylong career counseling session on Thursday, July 28 at Butler University that will offer a great mixture of job searching skills, networking tools and self-assessments.

The program is free to the Star employees who were laid off last month and includes lunch. It will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Butler University Center for Faith and Vocation, 4615 Sunset Ave., directly across from Clowes Memorial Hall.

The session promises to look and feel a bit different from the July 2 program at IUPUI, which offered encouragement from former journalists who have made a life beyond the Star.

The Butler event will offer practical tips on resume writing and job searching in the digital age and networking in areas beyond public relations. It will allow you to take the Strong Interest Inventory, an assessment tool that suggests careers that may best suit your talents and interests. It will be led by Gary Beaulieu, director of the university’s career center.

Partnering with Gary in the event is Butler’s Center for Faith and Vocation, which is led by former Star reporter Judith Cebula, who along with former Guild president Marc Allan, pulled together this event.

As such, the Center for Faith and Vocation will offer some sound helpful guidance on both the practical and spiritual aspects of life and work beyond The Indianapolis Star, including build a life of purpose, meaning and contribution.

Please RSVP to indynewsguild70@gmail.com so we can save you a seat.

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First paycheck since layoffs

For the former Star employees who were laid off on June 21, today was your first post-layoff paycheck with the first installment of the severance money due to you. We were also told by The Star’s HR office that you would receive pay today for your unused vacation and personal leave.

Well, we’ve already heard from a handful of people that their checks weren’t what was expected.

We made a trip down to HR this afternoon and the person with most of the answers — Olivia LaMelle — was out of the office. She’s due back Monday.

Please let us know if something is missing from your check. We’ll collect the information and press your case when someone returns. Of course, your first step should be to contact HR directly. But if that doesn’t work, let us know.

Email: indynewsguild70@gmail.com.

President Bobby King, 509-9026

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Super – Or Not

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Are you feeling super?

I hope so.

Personally, I’ve been feeling a little less than super. I’ve had a few days of late that have been downright lousy. Like the day when 28 of my newsroom colleagues – 25 of them my friends in the newspaper guild – were told to go home. Their services were no longer necessary. They were laid off.

I definitely didn’t feel super that day. In fact, from the sound of the way our publisher talked on Black Tuesday, the paper didn’t seem so super. Our national advertising was in the crapper. Our revenues were lagging. Our business, as it stood on June 21, wasn’t sustainable. Thus, we marked the first day of summer at The Indianapolis Star, by pulling out the ax.

Amazing how much that ax accomplished. In less than two weeks, the Star’s troubles appear now to be behind us. We are, as the full page ad in Sunday’s paper said, “super.”

Our newspaper sales are growing, the ad said. And “we are feeling super!” Note the exclamation point. That means it must be really super.

It’s nice to know that the newspaper is super again. And in less than two short weeks after we were in such an un-super situation. That’s an amazing turnaround. Our newspaper sales must have grown quickly after those people were “let go.”

Unless, of course, the Star was growing while those people were still here.

Could it be that we were super all along? Everybody says we’re still making a profit. Now we learn that our readership is growing. Of course, our executives at Gannett have been getting big bonuses. And our company earned a $500-million profit last year.

All that sounds pretty super.

I wonder, then, how our friends who were laid off feel. Some of them don’t know how they’re going to pay the light bill, eat, keep a roof over their head, pay for their doctor visits and keep gas in the car as they look for work. That sounds less than super.

The one good thing out of all this is that, now that the Star is super again, the rest of us who are still working here should be in line for a super pay raise!

Note the exclamation point. That means really super.

– Bobby King, President Indianapolis News Guild

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A little more information about severance payouts

The Guild has been getting several questions about severance payouts for the employees who were laid off last week. After meeting with Star HR director Olivia LaMelle, this is the best information I am able to provide.

First, for the duration of your severance, you will continue to be paid on the Star’s regular paycheck cycle – that is, every other Friday. If you have 8 weeks of severance coming to you, that would be the equivalent of four more paychecks. The money won’t be coming in a lump sum.

Second, the Star’s next payday – both for those laid off and those still employed here — is  July 8. For those laid off, that check should include not only your regular pay but the compensation you’re entitled to for any unused vacation or personal leave time.

Third, this July 8 check – and all those that follow — will be free of the deductions you were accustomed to seeing in the past — things like the parking fee, the newspaper subscription and items you elected to have deducted. The exception, of course, is taxes.

Fourth, the Star has concluded that, based on their lengthy service at the paper and the terms of a previous Guild contracts they worked under, the following people are entitled to more than the typical 26 week limit on severance payments:

  • Marily Cooley
  • Michael Davis
  • Barbara Hoffman
  • Kevin Lane
  • Russ Leonard
  • Alan Petersime
  • Judy Wolf

LaMelle said she hopes to be able to give the seven people listed above an idea of their exact length of severance by the July 8 paycheck. If you have questions, I urge you to call LaMelle directly at 444-8165.

You can always call, Guild president Bobby King, at 444-6089 or 509-9026. I may not know the answer to your question, but I will do my best to chase it down.

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The official line on COBRA benefits

We have been receiving some questions about COBRA benefits for the workers affected by the June 21 layoffs. I asked the Star’s human resources department to spell things out. I hope this statement from Olivia LaMelle, the veep for HR, is helpful.

— Bobby King

——————–

Employee coverage will continue until June 30, 2011 since the employment ended in June 21, 2011.

Beginning July 1, 2011 they will be able to continue their coverage through COBRA.  The first 2 months will be at a reduced amount.

The cost is based on the selection of coverage, they can choose dental, vision, medical or just medical, etc.

COBRA information will be sent directly to their homes and will take about 4-6 weeks to receive.

The benefits will NOT be interrupted for 60 days, giving everyone the opportunity to receive the paperwork, review, ask questions and send payment. If payment is not received by the deadline outlined in the letter, coverage will end effective June 30, 2011.

The Gannett Benefits Center is any questions these folks may have, 877-865-8980.

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