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Letter to Romenesko

A GateHouse Media employee writes:

The attached shiny new employee handbook does a lot of shitty things, but most deplorable are the reduction in the number of paid holidays from nine to six, and the increase in the threshhold for calculating overtime. [Non-management employees] are paid for 37.5 hours; now they can’t get overtime unless they work 40 hours.

Update – A former GateHouse manager writes: “GateHouse has recognized just the 6 paid holidays for years, and the OT policy has applied for years as well. Looks like some properties acquired by GateHouse are just getting the GateHouse Handbook implemented and are experiencing changes from what they’re used to. The link to the letter is addressed to Cape Cod Media Group and SouthCoast Media Group employees, who fall under the GH umbrella as of 2013.”

* GateHouse Handbook reflects policy changes (Google Drive)
* Earlier: GateHouse papers cut coffee service and office supplies (jimromenesko.com)

Remember Dean Olsen, the reporter on the health-care beat who works at McDonald’s on weekends to make ends meet?

He’s still working at the fast-food chain and still trying to get raises for journalists at GateHouse Media’s Springfield (Ill.) State Journal-Register.

Olsen, who leads the Springfield unit of the United Media Guild, says the union is launching a radio campaign today to put pressure on GateHouse to agree to a fair contract.

“The ads will call on people to go to a special website – savethesjr.com – where they can read about our campaign, sign a petition and send an email to Kirk Davis, chief executive officer of GateHouse Media,” says the union chief.

Here’s the ad on SoundCloud, and here’s the transcript:

A lot has changed at the State Journal Register since GateHouse Media bought the paper in 2007. The printing press was outsourced to Peoria. Page designers, proofreaders, outdoors writer, food editor and other positions all eliminated. The newsroom formed a union to stop the bleeding and save quality journalism in Springfield. Go to Savethesjr.com and tell the out-of-town corporate owners enough is enough. It’s time to reinvest in your workers. That’s savethesjr.com. This message brought to you by the United Media Guild.

“Journalists at The State Journal-Register have gone more than seven years without a pay raise,” notes Olsen. “And since we talked [last October], I got a 10-cent-per-hour raise [at McDonald’s], making my hourly pay $8.35. McDonald’s generally gives raises every six months.”

* Save the State Journal-Register (savethesjr.com)
* Meet the health-care reporter who works at McDonald’s on weekends (jimromenesko.com)




Dean Olsen is the health-care reporter at GateHouse Media’s State Journal-Register in Springfield, Ill. The 54-year-old journalist, who hasn’t had a raise in seven years, works at McDonald’s part-time to support his family.

“I work there almost every Saturday and Sunday, seven to nine hours a day. I rarely have a day off. I haven’t been able to do much around the house [because of the work schedules]. My lawn hasn’t been cut in a month.”

Olsen was hired by McDonald’s in May after he job-hunted for six months and applied at dozens of places.

“I know it’s ironic” that a health-care reporter is working at a fast-food restaurant, he tells me, “but I need to support my family and I’ll do whatever it takes.”

He has three kids, including a special-needs child who is home-schooled by his wife.

“Our situation is a little unique because we are not a two-income family. My wife’s priority needs to be with our son.”

Olsen is also chairman of the Springfield unit of the United Media Guild, and is trying to get GateHouse to start giving raises. It’s not looking good, though.

“We know the company has money, but raises just aren’t in their plan.”

Still, the newsroom union is urging get GateHouse to at least match salaries paid at the Peoria Journal Star, another GateHouse paper. For that to happen, younger journalists would have to get double-digit pay increases.

“Our focus is on the younger people because we’ve seen them become disillusioned and leave” because of the low salaries.

The union is proposing no raises for veteran reporters in the first year of the contract, then 3% for the second and third years. The current salary range is $26,000 to about $65,000.

Olsen makes $60,000, but his family is still struggling. (His take-home pay at McDonald’s is $230 every two weeks.)

“We had a hard time paying our property taxes,” he says, “and I hope we can keep our home.”

Bruce Rushton, an Illinois Times reporter who worked at the State Journal-Register with Olsen for five years, describes the journalist as “a hard-working, careful and experienced reporter” who “did not take a job at McDonald’s for anything other than economic necessity. This is not a publicity stunt pulled to generate sympathy for himself” or colleagues who have gone without raises for years.”

How long does Olsen figure he’ll be working at McDonald’s?

“I really don’t know,” he says. “It’s quite an experience, and you don’t realize how hard those people work and the abuse they put up with from the public.”

Olsen’s job is working the front counter and sometimes taking drive-thru orders.

“I’ve had sources come up to the drive-thru and they’re quite surprised to see me. Some think I’m working on an investigative project.”

It’s nothing like that, he assures them.

Update: I invited State Journal-Register publisher Clarissa Williams to comment on Friday. She sent this statement on Monday afternoon: “We are conducting negotiations in a positive and straightforward manner in good faith. Our intention is to look out for all 141 employees’ best interest. I’ll continue to operate the State Journal-Register with the best interests of our readers, advertisers and employees top of mind.”

* State Journal-Register medical reporter also works at McDonald’s (illinoistimes.com)
* Update: Comments from my Facebook friends and subscribers (facebook.com)




GateHouse Media has filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. CEO Michael Reed says in a memo that “with the challenges facing our industry and the impending maturity of our secured debt next year, we needed to be proactive in exploring options to restructure our debt, recapitalize and position ourselves for future growth.”

He adds: “Our prepackaged plan provides for full payment of our obligations to employees, customers, and vendors. Essentially, from an operational standpoint, it’s business as usual.

Reed tells employees: “We don’t believe you will notice any change in day-to-day operations.” GateHouse publishes about 100 dailies and 200 weeklies.

* GateHouse Media files prepackaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy (patriotledger.com)

Read Reed’s memo after the jump. Read More