Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2009 - Randy Gone, Seven Going

Randy was on the phone with personnel when Tumbleweed walked up hold an ad jacket containing the last ad he needed to close his section. Tumbleweed knew Randy was talking to personnel when he heard Randy refer to the person as Edna. She worked in personnel and had been involved providing orientation to Tumbleweed when he was hired. So Tumbleweed listened in on the conversation as he waited and heard the word retire. Randy hung up finally and hadn't even realized Tumbleweed was standing nearby as he was preoccupied shuffling through some papers. "Who's retiring? Tumbleweed asks causing Randy to whirl around in his chair. "Me if all goes well." Tumbleweed could tell that Randy was serious. He didn't know what to say. Then Randy continued but in a more hushed voice. "Look, the longer I stay here at this point the better the shot that Tom is going to get me fired. He was out to get me and look at all the people who are gone now since he became the top guy in operations. Even though he's gone now he's poisoned the well. The paper's looking for any reason to can employees. They used Tom because the guy was a big oaf and the paper is getting him to be their heavy and look for any reason to fire anybody so they can cut costs. I'm getting the hell out now with something rather than have personnel trump something up and 30 years worth of retirement and everything is down the drain." All Tumbleweed can say is, "Are you going to be able to retire and get by with what they'll pay you even though you're not sixty-five yet?" Randy smiles and replies, "Oh yeah buddy. My mortgage is a hundred seventy-five bucks a month so I'll be just fine." Tumbleweed a bit shocked responds, "A hundred seventy-five dollars a month! My condo fee is way more than that." What Tumbleweed didn't say was his mortgage was ten times higher than Randy's puny payment and his was getting ready to increase again - or so he'd been warned. However, since the collapse in the market the rates had not gone up sparing Tumbleweed further financial misery.

By the middle of the summer Randy was gone. He had made it safely into retirement. The early retirement had cost him dearly and if only he could have stuck it out three more years he'd of really been set up financially. But at least he got something and for the time being it seemed he would be able to get by with it. When Randy left there was no fanfare or parties. Those were now a thing of the past at the paper. Everything grew darker at the building as more time passed. Half of the floor was now darkened where in recent times not so long ago employees for the paper were doing a job that was now no longer required. Those jobs were either killed by the Internet or their services were replaced by a software program that did their job for almost nothing twenty-four hours a day and never asked for a raise, formed a union nor demanded benefits. Randy had been a stabilizing influence on Tumbleweed. Before doing anything rash he always ran it past Randy first. Sure Randy played many practical jokes on Tumbleweed but that was just fun and games like things were back in the sixties at the paper. All the new hires got hazed in one way or another in those days. If one of the new employees wasn't walking around asking for a left handed wrench that he'd been told to fetch by one of the older workers playing a practical joke that everybody else was in on then someone must have just passed away at the paper. But all jokes aside, Tumbleweed knew that Randy knew the deal around the paper. He'd already saved Tumbleweed's ass several time by catching something that would have published in Tumbleweed's section. Tumbleweed had already been suspended two times while Randy was working along side him. Tumbleweed was on thin ice and he knew it. Now with no more Randy looking over his shoulder Tumbleweed was on his own - at least he felt that way, with the exception of the advice given to him by his mother.

Tumbleweed's outward appearance began to change. He looked more unshaven, unkept and like he'd not gotten enough sleeps. His eyes had dark circles. The last thing he wanted to hear when he got to work on such a nice August night that there was going to be a meeting. Everyone was a bit apprehensive when they were told to meet in the big conference room at eight o'clock, not just Tumbleweed. It was not that time of the month for what was now the monthly blood letting. Talk about the meeting and rumors were running rampant. The entire staff for operations now numbered only twenty-nine. That number included everybody from ad makers to paginators, artists, etc. The crew was a skeleton of its former self and even then there was not enough work to go around. The recent contract the union and paper signed allowed for the paper to keep a percentage of key employees regardless of seniority. These franchise employees could be kept on while employees with more seniority could be fired. Not everybody knew this as the big summer meeting began. But the contract language that allowed the paper to lay off any employee regardless of seniority was certainly on senior paginator Tumbleweed's mind.

The head of advertising operations took to the lectern and began speaking. "As you know the paper has had a drastic drop in the number of ads. The paper is not offering a buy out per se but a cash payment to leave. No matter what, seven of you will be reduced from the staff." Ann spoke up, "What if seven of us don't want to go?" Costa the head of operations very quickly answered that question. "Then management will decide which people will be let go." "Will they still get the money if they are forced out?" Someone from across the room yells. "No." Is Costa's no nonsense response. Everyone in the room remains in a stunned silence. "How will management decide which employees have to go?" Ann continues asking the questions on everybody's mind. Costa replies into the microphone, "That will be depending on the needs of the paper." Liz speaks up. "What about seniority?" Costa attempts to explain how twenty percent of the staff can be kept regardless of seniority. The remaining employees would be culled based on seniority after the key employees were taken off the table for termination. Still I see confusion in most people's eyes and say, "It's sort of like the twenty percent of the employees the paper picks can be tagged like franchise players in the NFL." Around the room but with a couple exceptions, the men all nod understanding their fate while the woman mostly remain confused. The room rumbles with a bit of chatter as those who understand explain things to those who do not understand or don't want to believe it. Costa breaks in over the speakers. "This decision will be made in eight weeks. Talk to your managers if you have questions." The meeting adjourned and the staff walks out in stunned silence. They look like they were lining up for a wake.

 As they all file out to return to their desk they began mumbling to one another. People like Liz had always counted on seniority to protect her from her bad work habits, lateness and absenteeism. Some employees had real health problem that also cause them to miss work. That was their problem now not the paper's. Needless to say Tumbleweed was very worried. If six people took the deal and only one person had to be fired he knew it would be him. He just knew it. That night when he got home he told his mother about the meeting and the two stayed up for hours discussing the possible ramifications especially in lieu of Tumbleweed's recent back to back suspensions. Forget about the fact that pagination had too many people. Several sections of the paper had been eliminated or combined with other sections.

I drove home that night not so worried about the meeting. I'd already been told that I was among the twenty percent that would be insulated from being axed. However, with everything that I'd come to learn of recently about things that never made it into the paper, I'd become really disgusted by the entire lying operation. I felt sort of dirty for being a part of it. Everyday I read about some additional case of government corruption or even treason that would never receive one dot of printer's ink in the paper. At the same time the only ads the paper could count on were ones bought by the federal government. Without those ads the paper would fold up like a dixie cup. However without the official stories and editorials that those government ads paid for perhaps the same fate might befall the government. As far as I was concerned the paper and the government were in bed together. Getting out of advertising operations did have its appeal to me and at least I felt I had a choice in the matter unlike most of the other's on the floor. They mostly prayed some other seven people would take the money and go.


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