Furloughs are nothing new for the Fort Collins Coloradoan. Two years ago this month, the paper's parent company, Gannett, imposed company-wide one-week furloughs.
Still, Coloradoan editor Bob Moore concedes that the latest furlough order will be tricky to implement -- although he's confident the paper can do so in ways that won't frustrate readers.
"Any time you have a change in staffing -- vacation, sick time or furlough -- you obviously increase the chances you won't get to something," Moore writes via e-mail. "We try to manage this as best we can by, for example, not having multiple people on vacation at the same time. That's the same approach we take with furloughs.
"We think we've served our readers well over the last couple of years, despite all the challenges," he continues. "The Coloradoan last year regularly broke stories of statewide importance, such as problems with DHS and with the state's educator arrest notification system, even while dealing with furloughs."
Moore's bottom line? "There's no doubt the furloughs impact employees, but we try very hard to ensure that our readers aren't impacted."
The one-week furloughs will be imposed on workers at Gannett's 81 newspapers, with the exception of USA Today and the Detroit Free Press, and must be completed during the year's first quarter. Get more details below in an internal Gannett memo and FAQ published by the Gannett Blog.
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January 4, 2011
To: All US Community Publishing employees
From: Bob Dickey
Last year was an important year for our division both strategically and operationally. We made many significant changes that are bearing results today and will help strengthen our business going forward.
As we start the new year, we continue to see some improvement in revenue trends and reduced year-over-year revenue declines in US Community Publishing. This is no small accomplishment and I think you should take great pride in what you have achieved. Our top line revenues, however, while improving, remain short of where they were a year ago. This is compounded by a still challenging and uncertain economy, as well as increasing expenses. To help us manage through these challenges, we have made the difficult decision to implement a furlough across USCP during the first quarter. This was, quite frankly, an option I had hoped we could avoid. Furloughs, while difficult, do allow us to protect jobs. The staff reductions we have taken over the past few years have been very hard and further reductions are not our first preference.
During the first quarter, non-union USCP employees will be furloughed for five business days. Exempt, salaried employees must take one full payroll week within the pay period, to be completed by Sunday, March 27. Outside sales people will take five days that can be completed at any pre-approved time before the last weekend in March. Non-exempt, hourly employees will also take five days at any pre-approved time, before the last weekend in March. If you are not sure which category you are in, you should check with your Human Resources representative or supervisor. The attached FAQ should answer other questions you may have. We will be communicating separately with union representatives to discuss the treatment of bargaining unit employees. I will be taking a furlough during the quarter and Craig Dubow and Gracia Martore each will be taking a reduction of salary that is equivalent to a week's furlough.
We have accomplished a lot over the last year and I am very proud of the outstanding journalism, products and services you deliver to our communities and customers every day. I know furloughs are very hard on you and your families and I thank each of you for the continued commitment and great work.
As always, please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com with any questions or ideas you have about our business.
Frequently Asked Questions attachment to the memo:
Gannett USCP furlough program
First quarter, 2011
1) Q. Why is USCP doing furloughs again when our division and the economy are doing better?
A. USCP continued to see improvement in revenue trends throughout 2010 and reduced year-over-year revenue declines. We are still facing some challenges though in growing our top line revenue and managing through continued weak spots in the economy and higher expenses. While taking a furlough was not a desirable course of action, we think it is needed at this time to help manage through these challenges.
2) Q. Will there be any exceptions?
A. Certain employees will be granted exceptions as a group. Also, there will be exceptions for newly hired employees and for other individuals and units who are impacted by other expense reduction measures. Some high volume sales people with significant commissions as part of their compensation may be exempted.
3) Q. This is a financial hardship for me. Can I have an exception?
A. Unfortunately, we cannot make individual exceptions. We recognize that furloughs create hardships and have tried to minimize this by giving hourly employees the flexibility to spread these days over the full quarter. We encourage all employees to make use of resources such as the Employee Assistance Program which can help you and your family manage through this difficult time.
4) Q. Will there be layoffs this year?
A. We want to avoid future layoffs and hope that we can do so by taking steps now to control expenses and focus on top line growth
5) Q. Will there be another furlough in Q2?
A. Our hope is that future furloughs will not be necessary but business conditions combined with economic trends will be the major factors as we continue to assess this market. No decision on this can be made at this time.
6) Q. Can I give up a week of vacation instead?
A. No, because vacation days are paid there is no savings to the company.
7) Q. Why are the rules different for non-exempt and exempt employees?
A. Non-exempt and exempt employees are subject to different rules set by the U.S. Department of Labor. Basically, exempt employees are paid for a week's worth of work, not in smaller increments.
8) Q. May hourly workers take furlough time in part-day or hourly increments?
A. We are asking the furloughs be taken in full day units.
9) Q. If a salaried employee works while on furlough because of an emergency, can he or she then take a new furlough week later?
A. Every exempt (salaried) employee will need to complete the furlough as one full payroll week. Furloughs need to be scheduled so back-up personnel are available. If there is an emergency and you need to return to work, a new furlough will be scheduled for a later date. Your supervisor must approve your return to work in advance.
10) Q. Does the furlough include part-time workers?
A. Yes. The furlough should be based on their scheduled or variable time and should be based on a normal work week.
11) Q. Can I use part-time people to fill in for furloughed workers?
A. Not if it expands their hours and costs more.
12) Q. Can a salaried employee work on the weekends?
A. There can be no work done during the payroll week at all so it depends entirely on the operating unit's payroll week. A furlough for an exempt employee may vary from site to site but it will always be seven consecutive days and therefore will always include either two weekend days or two of the employee's regular days off.
13) Q. How will my furlough be scheduled?
A. Furloughs will be scheduled so that normal operations can continue without interruption during the furlough period. You will have an opportunity to discuss your schedule with your supervisor, and determine a mutually agreeable date and what you need to do to prepare for your being out.
14) Q. Why can't I do any work while I am out?
A. There are very specific rules that must be followed. Federal and state laws require that employees, whether hourly or salaried, must not do any kind of work on an unpaid leave. That includes reading or responding to e-mails, calling or responding to calls from colleagues and being on site at your location at any time during your furlough days.
15) Q. Who will cover my job while I am out?
A. You and your supervisor should discuss how your responsibilities will be handled while you are out. If you have a company e-mail address and/or phone extension, you should leave a message directing people to the employee designated to reply in your absence.
16) Q. What happens to my benefits while I am out on furlough?
A. Benefits such as your health and life insurance continue during your furlough. Deductions for your health and optional life insurance coverage will be taken out of your paycheck for any week in which furlough day(s) are taken. Health and life insurance deductions will continue to be based on your rate of pay, not on your reduced pay as a result of the furlough. That means that the amount of your life insurance coverage (equal to one times your annual rate of pay) will not go down as a result of your unpaid furlough time. Similarly, your payroll deduction for medical insurance, which is based on your rate of pay and the salary bracket that you fall into, will remain unchanged since your rate of pay also remains unchanged. You will continue to earn vacation credit during your furlough. If you participate in the Gannett 401(k) Savings Plan, no participant contributions and company-matching contribution will be made for the time you are not paid while on furlough. You are not eligible for a distribution of your pension benefits while you are out on unpaid leave. Garnishments will continue to be taken.
17) Q. Am I eligible for state unemployment benefits while I am out on furlough?
A. Unemployment benefits vary by state. Some states have waiting periods before unemployment benefits commence; others do not. You should contact your local unemployment office for more information.
18) Q. What other resources do I have to assist me while I am out on furlough?
A. Your local Employee Assistance Program can provide counseling or direct you to resources in your community to help you and your family through this difficult period.
As a reminder, the Gannett 401k Savings Plan provides you with the ability to borrow from your account, provided you are eligible under the terms of the Plan. More information is on the Plan's website at benefits.gannett.com or you can call the Gannett Benefits Center at 877.865.8980.