Sunday, July 20, 2008

Call It What It Is

Been having an intriguing discussion with some Sentinels lately about layoffs versus buyouts. Some people distinguish between a staffer who raises her hand and whispers to Zell, “Take me! Take me!”, and a staffer whose number comes up in the layoff lottery.

I beg to differ. It’s one and the same thing.

First, buyouts are aimed at reducing staff. Period. Zell is not standing on a corner handing out checks (about a $63 million first-quarter charge due to severance and termination payments; wonder what that figure will be in the second quarter?). There is a goal to be accomplished, and that is to employ substantially fewer people when all is said and done.

Second, few people would be opting for buyouts if it weren’t absolutely explicit that staff numbers are going to be reduced, like it or not. If you don’t toss your name in the hat now, Charlotte Hall -- or your immediate editor-- may write it on a piece of paper, fold it and place it in there for you. If it doesn’t happen this time, there’s always round 2, round 3, round 4, round 5 … And staffers run the risk of having to take a less generous buyout offer in the future. This is a game of Russian roulette.

The fact that 70 percent of the recent Orlando Sentinel cuts involve people who “volunteered” to leave -- if the Orlando Sentinel is to be believed -- doesn’t change the essential nature of this.

Stop parsing words. There is no such thing as a "voluntary" buyout or a layoff. In the old industrial manufacturing days, a layoff meant there was a possibility that you might get called back to work when sales/revenues picked up.

That is not even remotely possible today. It is what it is. Call it what it is.

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