Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Modesto Bee tries to avoid furloughs through "forced vacation burndowns"

Modesto Bee publisher Eric Johnston told employees the Bee will implement a forced vacation burndown to avoid furloughs -- although Johnston says furloughs may be unavoidable later in the year if conditions worsen. Here is the email he sent out today:

—–Original Message—–
From: Johnston, Eric - Modesto
Sent: Wednesday, July 08, 2009 10:34 AM
To: MODB Everyone
Subject: Vacation plan announcement

Good morning everyone,

As we continue to manage through a very difficult economic environment, we have two main objectives - continue to identify and tap new revenue streams and maximize our expense savings plans. Everyone has worked hard to meet these objectives, but our work is far from over.

Earlier this year I announced that we might need to consider unpaid furloughs as an expense savings method. As we discussed at the Scoop meetings last week, I believe we have found a way to realize the savings WITHOUT requiring employees to take unpaid time off.

It is important to note that this program isn’t a guarantee that furloughs won’t be necessary should economic conditions deteriorate further - it is simply a way that we believe furloughs might be avoidable at this time.

We are attempting to avoid furloughs for the following reasons:

1. We recognize that asking employees to take unpaid time off is difficult during these tough economic times; and

2. Federal and state laws require exempt employees (any non-hourly employee) to take unpaid time off in full workweek increments. Hourly -or non-exempt - employees may spread the unpaid furlough hours out. This presents inequities among our staff and is difficult to schedule.

To avoid the need for a furlough we are going to implement an initiative that instead will reduce our vacation liability.

Our vacation policy allows every employee to accrue vacation time as you work through the year. Employees who don’t take vacation as it’s earned grow balances that result in a financial liability to the company. By reducing this liability, we can accomplish the same savings that a furlough would but without requiring unpaid time off.

To reduce this liability, we will be requiring that employees take all vacation time that will accrue in 2009 plus a portion of any vacation time that has been carried over from previous years. All employees will be required to participate in this program, regardless of tenure or position.

Beginning this week your manager will meet with you personally to schedule vacation time. We will give you the option of first requesting the days or weeks that work best with your plans and schedules. However, after August 1, if employees have not requested the necessary vacation time, managers will begin scheduling mandatory vacation time.

We see this as a great opportunity to manage through a difficult economic time with minimal negative impact on your household income. If you have questions about this initiative, please contact Human Resources.

Thank you very much for all you do.

Eric Johnston
Publisher & President
The Modesto Bee |

Unpaid furloughs are a pay cut. Using up vacation time, even if mandatory, isn't a pay cut. (I'd bet the employees at other papers getting mandatory furloughs would rather have the vacation burndown.) What am I missing?

Hat tip: email (Johnston email also posted at the Bee Guild web site.)


Anonymous said...

What am I missing?

Actually all you are missing is the intent behind the move. They are cleaning up the books so future layoffs don't drain their cash on hand.

Previous layoffs came with a variable price and make it more difficult to assess the savings from each round. This will make it much easier to can the remaining employees that will not be needed when moving shop to the strip mall offices.

Anonymous said...

Its all about cash for MNI. Vacation burn downs don't require cash but when the person is laid off, they have to be paid out.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Melanie .....
Your thoughts and comments, please.

You know, we know you know.

What are you siphoning from this latest?

Anonymous said...

This is actually a very informative letter and tells you exactly where the company mind is pointing. It tells you much more than an earnings report, or a speech from Pruitt because there is no other reason to do this than to save cash for future layoffs.

Sorry you guys, but we told you. When you voted to sacrifice fellow employees in order to extend your own miserable existence, that they would be coming for you next.

Now you know, you sacrificed your friends for nothing other than to give the publisher the right to blame their firings on you.

Scabs, the lot of you.

Anonymous said...

Sooo, when the next layoff round hits this fall, they won't have to add vacation time earned to the victim's severance? Wow, what genius. That screws the dearly departed out of weeks of accrued vacation pay they'll need to pay bills. All the while they pretend to be saving the future sacrificial lambs from costly furloughs. Oh, my.

Anonymous said...

Plus, those who are going to get the ax will have frittered away vacation time they didn't even want to take. Diabolical!

Anonymous said...

My friend was forced to burn vacation time, and two months later, he was laid off. He said they didn’t want to pay out cash for vacation time. During the forced burns, the other employees were so understaffed it made work a living hell, because they tried to do the work of three people. Many of the overstressed workers were also laid off after all the vacation time was burned. Admin knew they were overworking the employees for their purposes, and would dispose of them later, IMO. What scumbags they are!

Anonymous said...

What you also are missing is that Guild members in Modesto voted on this idea several weeks ago. We were told this move would help avoid furloughs, but there still would be no absolute guarantees furloughs would not be necessary.

Generally, those people with the highest amounts of accrued vacation time also have been in Modesto the longest and thus are the highest paid. If these people taking vacation can help save weeks of work for younger staffers making far less money and working paycheck to paycheck, then the benefit is worth burning the time.

People in Modesto continue to working together to keep costs down and still produce a quality product.

Most of us chose to stay, while at the same time lamenting the loss of colleagues, most of whom were and are friends. If that makes us scabs, then pass the ointment.

Anonymous said...

Why can't the guilds see through this and raise a stink instead of just posting this nauseating email from management? Oh, that's right, the guilds are nothing more than company clones collecting dues and wimpering at management's feet.

Anonymous said...

If we could just scribble one more hit piece on Sarah Palin before the axe comes down.....let do we start it.

"Sarah Palin is a quitter and we all are just getting hosed here at this mean old newspaper place. Don't you feel sorry for us"? We have our agenda.....

"We have no work because of the poor economy and they do this to US".

You all have a nice life. The lines are long and state offices are closed on Fridays.

Anonymous said...

I love this from 6:43: "People in Modesto...still produce a quality product."
A quality product? LOL! Who wrote this, Eric Johnston?

Anonymous said...

Most of us chose to stay, while at the same time lamenting the loss of colleagues, most of whom were and are friends. If that makes us scabs, then pass the ointment.

Your sorry ass voted to fire a larger number of non guild employees to lighten the number of your own little group that would be fired right away, and you say pass the ointment? Then you call them, "friends?" That isn't what you are.

And for the record, that doesn't make you a SCAB. You already had that distinction the last time you sorry bastards threw your, "friends" to the wolves and crossed the picket line.

Also for the record. You were lied too. There is no relationship between burning leave and preventing furloughs. It doesn't do that, and it is not the purpose. You fell for a line of shit.

There is two reasons that they did this and only two.

A) Cash on hand and cheaper layoffs in the future as stated above.

B) Because when preparing for Bankruptcy they want vacation time limited as much as possible because there is the chance that the judge may force them to maintain a cash balance to cover accrued vacation, and not allow them to use that money for other things.

You guys are so stupid. You should have never fallen for that liberal arts degree. It makes you an idiot.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers have become nothing more than a ‘dog eat dog’ world. Better to eat than be eaten, but don’t try to lay how much you miss your friends on us. You want to keep your job to the bitter end, so I get that, but at least be honest, oh wait, journalists no longer honor that old tradition.

Anonymous said...

Damn, what the hell are you Bee people up too? The management hates you because you're a drag on their bottom line. Union people hate you because you have no regard for union principals. The public hates you because you decided to play mouthpiece to an ideology. Competitors hate you because you try to monopolize the written word.

Is there anyone who doesn't hate the current crop of the so-called print, "Journalist?"

Anonymous said...

Clearly a sinking ship with no lifeboats left. And according to the Publisher's editorial a couple months ago, there are Somali pirates out there just waiting to attack.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to...COUGH COUGH...use up...COUGH COUGH...your... COUGH...sick time...COUGH COUGH...

HEY...What ever happened to the Company mission statement? Was that the first thing they threw overboard to lighten their load?

OH and on your way to the unemployment line, don't forget to pay tribute to the "green monstrosity" hanging in the lobby! You remember what that was for. All us Pressmen, production workers, etc. Thanks Mark for a fitting farewell...That "artwork" looks like they pulled it out of a dumpster! Oh, they did...I forgot it had used printing plates glued to it!

Anonymous said...

"People in Modesto...still produce a quality product.

They forgot to say POOR quality product. I wouldn't even line my bird cage with it. The bird's feet would turn black!
Are they winning any print quality awards? Uh, quality...what's that?
The only thing I miss is the comics. I get news on-line, comics on-line, classifieds on craigslist (on-line), uh well, Thanks Eric for moving us into the digital age.
See you guys this fall at the EDD office. I'll be laughing! 1-800-300-5616 press #1 for English.

Anonymous said...

...we have two main objectives - continue to identify and tap new revenue streams and maximize our expense savings plans.

What ever happened to providing the community with a quality news product?...Isn't that your main objective.

I think your main objective now is to grasp at straws because you lost sight of the real reason your are a news reporting company LOOOOOONG ago.

You don't see it do you? You are supposed to be providing a service and printed product for your customer base. You don't even know who or what your customer base is anymore because you are holding onto your life preserver and flailing your arms about and making so much noise the sharks are starting to circle. You are looking at the sharks instead of who will pull you out of this mess...and that is your customers and employees. You have alienated both and now you are just so much fluff to your few readers and advertisers you have managed to keep on board. Treat your customer like you don't care about them and they will say "It was nice doing business with you, please cancel my subscription or I will not be renewing my advertising because your printed product looks terrible and reflects a poor light on my business."

Anonymous said...

Most of you guys seem to have a pretty sad life. The only joy you have is bashing other people and gloating over fired employees misfortune.

Anonymous said...


Comp Days

Remember when management came to you begging to work on your days off or Holidays with the promise of a comp day ? Comp days are not vacation days and are not on the books and will not get paid.

If you got them, use them now !! Believe me management will forget your hard work and they will try to cheat you out of them.

Do not give them a free day of labor !

Anonymous said...

Most of you guys seem to have a pretty sad life. The only joy you have is bashing other people and gloating over fired employees misfortune.


Oh you're so right. This boat that shorting McClatchy helped me afford is just boring. All it's done is hauled my sad self through the Caribbean season, to the Med and back. Next stop, Panama, Costa Rica and up the west coast before heading to Hawaii and then the South Pacific.

But you know what? I can take solace in my "sadness" as never once did I ever have to crawl over the back of my peers or throw a friend under the bus to afford it.

Anonymous said...

8:25's post should be put on all the McClatchy guild web sites to warn members. Of course the cowardly guild leaders probably wouldn't post it out of fear.

Anonymous said...

Grow up you guys. This is about cash flow. You have no idea how much cash is tied up in an archaic plan that allows vacation carry-over from year to year. If you use up that time this year, they don't need to budget it for next year and that is a SAVINGS!!!

With a vacation plan like at my paper (one of the reviled former KR papers that actually knows how to operate a smart business) you earn vacation per pay period and are only paid out the amount you have earned up to the point that you possibly leave the company.

If all Modesto is doing is "burning down" vacation my sense is that you are a far cry from more layoffs.

Anonymous said...

If all Modesto is doing is "burning down" vacation my sense is that you are a far cry from more layoffs.

Wrong. They're right on it's doorstep and that is not a savings by any accounting standard.

Anonymous said...

What a disaster this has become. I'm sure this idea will spread like a malignancy throughout the rest of the company, just as furloughs, pay cuts, etc. have done.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean "spread"? It's already happened in Raleigh. They're forcing people to take, sometimes the very next day off if they reach their "cap".

Sam in the real world said...

Good grief you anonymous clowns. The Union negotiated long and hard to win vacation "time off". What makes you think you are owed it as income in excess of 52 weeks pay per year. The burn down saves cash, yes. But why would anyone think they deserve more than 52 weeks pay per year. Whatever you carryover and expect cash for in the future in earnings in excess of 52 weeks. You earned the vacation time off. Use it for goodness sakes.

Anonymous said...

Again let me say that a plan that is allows vacation carry-over is ARCHAIC and makes bad - horrible - terrible business sense.

And yes there IS a savings in the following year if the salary dollars for carryover vacation do not need to be accrued and budgeted. It's probably taking millions out of 2010 McClatchy-wide.

You guys are living in an archaic past and your sense of entitlement is what has driven the company into the ground. Not some phantom liberal news slant. Not the KR purchase. Not Gary Pruitt who is rich enough to have bailed out long ago but is staying in because of - dare I say it? - principle.

No. Blame YOUR greed and cluelessness about the business all wrapped up in blind entitlement.

No wonder corporate dumped the KR papers with unions. They already had enough of you scorpions on the payroll.

Anonymous said...

July 9, 2009 10:19 AM Annon. said: "Grow up you guys. This is about cash flow."

The Modesto Bee mission statement:
Mission Statement/Motto: We will provide news and information that exceeds our customers’ expectations every day.

I guess it is about cash flow NOW...forget about the readers, reporting the news, printing a good looking paper that attracts the eye and in turn attracts the advertiser...OH WAIT, the advertisers...they have money don't they? Maybe we can find some of those and we can start doing business like it should be done.
Naw, it's too hard pleasing the customers, besides it's more fun doing things this way. Our physical fitness plan is right on track though...Jumping to conclusions, running down our peers, stabbing each other in the back, flying off the handle...

Gary and the wrecking crew have just added insult to injury.
Read the about McClatchy page here

It should be called the BS about McClatchy.

And check this out on their home page.

McClatchy is engaged in a continuing reengineering of our company that has been years in the making. While today's dismal economy has masked many of the advances, we have made good progress and see better days ahead.

Some more McClatchy forgotten propaganda:
Since 1857

The McClatchy Company is the third-largest newspaper company in the United States, a leading newspaper and internet publisher dedicated to the values of quality journalism, free expression and community service. Building on a 152-year legacy of independence, the company's newspapers and websites are steadfast defenders of First Amendment values and advocates for the communities they serve.