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Mankato paper plays Scrooge with Christmas Eve furlough

A century ago, the New York Sun published the editorial “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.” This year, Mankato Free Press proved there’s a Scrooge.
By David Brauer

A century ago, the New York Sun published the editorial “Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus.” This year, Mankato Free Press proved there’s a Scrooge.

On Tuesday, Free Press employees were informed they’d have to take a one-day furlough before the end of the fiscal year. Which day? Christmas Eve.

That’s right, the Free Press’ Alabama-based parent CNHI decided everyone’s paycheck should be just a little lighter at gift-giving time.

The company’s designated spokesman, Chief Operating Officer Keith Blevins, did not respond to a call this morning for comment, so I’ll let memos tell the tale. The first, from Free Press editor Joe Spear to his newsroom:

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We will be shutting the office down Dec. 24. It will need to be taken by everyone as an unpaid day. It’s one last expense savings before the year is done.

If you scheduled Dec. 24 as vacation, personal or your holiday, you need to take another day for your holiday, personal or vacation. before the 24th…..Talk to your supervisor about what works out.

Paychecks will be issue on Dec . 31, Thursday. Also, there will be no benefit deductions from that paycheck as it is the third of the month.

Not too cuddly. On Wednesday, publisher Jim Santori followed with a bit more milk of human kindness:


By now your department head should have told you the bad news: The company is in need of one more furlough day before Dec. 26 to help close out the year.

No one likes this news; no one likes the timing. What I like even less is the need for the company to do this — revenues did not come back for the holiday season.

And our failure to meet our obligations for the fourth quarter would have triggered a need for even more severe moves than those already planned.

But why Christmas Eve? The Midwest Division agreed to best way to implement the one day was on Dec. 24 since that was scheduled to be a half-day anyway for most staffers and that would be the least disruptive to operations and hopefully the most accommodating to staffers.

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I am just disappointed as many of you that we had to implement this action. We all — including corporate staff and even the CEO — are affected by this. I continue hearing our media brethren who are taking even more draconian steps and I’m thankful we are not forced into that position.

By all indications, we are seeing a bottoming out on the economy. However I do not expect to see indications on how long the bottom will last until after the holidays. Meanwhile, we want to keep as many people employed as we can while we weather this storm and work to keep the ship afloat.

These are unprecedented times — at least in my lifetime and I thought I had seen it all.

I appreciate your help and understand your frustration. I really do. But we need to continue to provide the best we can offer to our readers and our advertisers. I know you will do that.

Thank you all.

As Santori notes, it could be worse — CNHI could give folks layoff notices for Christmas. And perhaps in referrring to the “severe moves” if fourth-quarter numbers aren’t met, the publisher is hinting at debt covenants that force higher payments and interest rates for missed financial targets. I’ve certainly seen that problem a lot in other organizations.

Still, with Free Press workers already facing five furlough days in the first quarter of 2010, it’s a very unmerry time indeed.