Leaving The Washington Post
In addition by late in the first decade of the 21st century, the deal with the union had changed considerably since I arrived there in 1999. Then it was still the workers' paradise where if you showed up for work they darn near could not fire you if you were in the union. There were hundreds of workers in advertising operations toiling away both night and day. There was a 24 hour cafeteria and round the clock nursing care available.
How things had changed by 2009. We were down to 27 workers in advertising operations for two main reasons - computers allowed 100 times more work to be done by one worker than in the old lead type/Linotype days plus there was only 1/100 as many ads being bought than back in the pre Internet heydays. The Classified Section had gone from who knows how many pages to the Advertising column - perhaps two columns on a good day. The deal with the union had changed as well.
The old contracts had basically guaranteed workers a job for life at the Washington Post. The last contract that affected me essentially provided for something similar to the NFL Franchise Tag. For the Post that meant around 20% of their key workers could be kept while workers with more seniority could be fired. That was good for me because I am a hard worker and my superiors had already whispered to me privately that I wasn't going anywhere even though I was a worker low on the totem pole.
Then in August of 2009 the 27 of us were called into a big meeting where the head of Ad Operations, Costa Bugg, laid it on the line. Six of us had to go and there was going to be two ways to get it done. Either six of us would leave voluntarily and get a cash payout, or workers would be terminated to reach six with no cash payout. I looked around the room, not concerned for myself because of my situation, but seeing the shock and dread on the other workers' faces. It looked like they all were told they had terminal cancer. In fact, most were sick with something and desperately needed healthcare. I on the other hand was well and already on my nurse wife's health plan. In addition my wife earns a huge salary while we still live incredibly frugally. And of course I'd been told I wasn't going anywhere while other workers my superiors were chomping at the bit to get rid of.
However, the atmosphere at the Post had changed like night and day. It had gone from a shop of friendly, secure people making a good living with no more worries than bad health from living the fat life the Post employment provided for, to a cutthroat shop where if you could get another employee fired you reduced your chance of being let go yourself by 1/6. And that was the end for me.
I'll be damned if I'm going work in an environment that pits one employee politically against another all for a corporations that is as insider as they come. In fact if not for the government ad revenue the Washington Post would have been washed up already like so many other newspapers now a part of history like buggy whips and wash boards. I already knew I had to keep my mouth shut, which posed a huge problem for me on a couple of counts. One, I'm half deaf from years of loud rock music and some workers at the Post enjoyed my company along with a good laugh. Heck we used to do practical jokes on one another almost everyday like hanging a Kerry sticker on my supervisor Randy's back. He was a staunch Republican and letting him walk through the shop getting snickers from behind was a riot. If one might wonder about the wisdom of tagging your boss, Randy was the most cunning practical joker of all times.
So when Greg put some fake letter apparently from Donald Graham, the owner of the Post, on his underling David's desk that basically said "YOU'RE FIRED" it was an obvious prank. Even if Donald Graham himself HAD wanted to fire David, he had fifteen flunky managers or more to do it. In fact Donald Graham didn't even know David existed. Sadly, David saw this as an opportunity to get his superior fired and complained to management. Then the first I really heard about this debacle was when David came over to my desk that night and began by saying he was sorry.
I thought he meant he was sorry for ratting out Greg. However, he actually meant he was sorry for blaming me for the prank as well, which he failed to mention. He was taking me out as well that night. The evidence against me was someone heard Greg talking in my direction about the joke letter then seeing me laugh. I don't doubt this happened but the first I'd heard of the prank was David telling me. Being deaf and self conscientious about it I would quite often laugh or nod in agreement while someone was speaking to me even though I could not hear a word they said. I was being polite mostly with lots of work to get done. I didn't wish to say "What? then have the speaker repeat themselves and giving away just how deaf I am.
So when I was called to the fifth floor personnel grand inquisitor, I wasn't worried figuring they wanted to know what I knew about the joke. To my surprise I was a target of the investigation. The Post used secret testimony and evidence I never saw to conclude I had been in on the plot and in fact suspected me of orchestrating the entire prank. One piece of key evidence was my alleged laugh when Greg was supposedly speaking about the letter. I reminded Costa Bugg and the 25 or 30 something personnel inquisitor I hear only half of what I let on I hear and that Costa should know that since he was always telling me to lower my own voice when I didn't realize how loud I was speaking. It's a curse of being deaf.
So they already had me written up even before talking to me and handed me the paper. It was going into my permanent Post record. Oooo! I told Costa if the buy out was at least fifteen cents I'd take it as I grabbed their little paper writing me up and walked out of their office. As soon as the offer was available I took it which paid me about sixteen grand before taxes to leave. What the hell, it was better than nothing.
Then I had to work next to this back-stabber David for the next several months until I left voluntarily. I had had this fat creep over numerous times like on the 4th of July and fixed his car. Sure I joked around with him at work as he did with me. Then the little sidewinder tries to get me fire to saves his job. I was there long enough to see David being led out of the building crying, obviously having just been fired. He'd screwed up some ad, again, and that could be 100K on a full page ad. He had back-stabbed me and several other people trying to save his job and ended up getting fired anyway.
In the end I walk out of there with my head up on my own terms. I know they have since let even more people go especially one black lady who screamed the most horrible things to me about a month before I left. She yelled things at me that I would have been fired immediately for but she got the day off early. Swell. At the Post there was a social order with middle-aged white men at the bottom and black lesbian women at the top. We were expected to shut up, cast our eyes downward and accept whatever verbal abuse dished up from our social order superiors. But that's another story you'll never read in the Washington Post.