First, Halifax Media and the New York Times Co. sent all employees at the regional newspapers Halifax bought (The Ledger, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Gainesville Sun, etc.) an email over the Christmas holidays saying the employees would receive a second email informing them if they have a job. After letting them dangle for a couple of days, Halifax decided to keep everyone. Oh, how nice of them.
Not so much.
Seems that they froze them in place so that they could concoct a more deviously Snidely Whiplash villain plan.
Yesterday, as multiple sources reported, including some directly to me, Halifax presented seemingly all of its employees — including advertising folks — with an astonishing non-compete agreement. You really should go read the whole thing on Jim Romenesko’s site. It’s worse in its full legal glory than even the shorthand overview, which is bad enough.
In short, if you left The Ledger or another Halifax property, you couldn’t work for any media company in competition with a Halifax property for two years. But here’s the kicker. The “agreement” applied even if Halifax fired you. They could lay you off in 2013, you essentially couldn’t work in Florida with a media company (and their definition is broad) until 2015. Halifax has papers across the state.
Sign it, or your fired. Not quite Henry VIII and Sir Thomas More, but pretty nasty nonetheless.
Why would Halifax do this? Why would they care if you went somewhere else after they fired you? It makes (maybe) a little more sense for sales folks, but then, why would they fire you if you brought in money?But it makes no sense for reporters because it’s obvious that few, if any, media executives actually care about reporting and generally see journalism as a cost center.
The most plausible answer came from a Romenesko tipster. The best explanation is that whoever wrote that agreement for Halifax did not care if employees worked somewhere else. They didn’t want them to sign. They wanted the chance to fire employees with cause and get out of paying severance. (Such a move might even jerk employees out of unemployment insurance. I don’t know the legal ins and outs. Maybe Kemp or someone can weigh in on all of this.)
I have to say all of that makes sense. The people doing it have no soul, but there is a certain cold logic to it. It’s not personal. Strictly business.
I am told that the Ledger executives I praised a few weeks back (see what I get for magnanimity) were riding the company train pretty hard. I’ve heard no evidence of them pushing back against corporate. There were certainly no threats to resign because such a thuggish policy runs contrary to the tenets of the religion one of them might very publicly adhere to. What would Jesus do, Jerome? Or a leader?
Thankfully, it seems a leader did emerge in Sarasota. In the Romenesko account, ace reporter/editor Matthew Doig, whom I have never met, but whose work I admire, is the only line level employee mentioned by name. One perceives he led a bit of a revolt. One also perceives that publisher Diane McFarlin at least provided a pretty good conduit to management. Again, reading between the lines, I think McFarlin did a little bit of spade work for her people. If I’m wrong, correct me.
Anyway, Halifax seems to have crumbled. They’ve now rescinded the non-compete agreement. That’s good news.
But the whole thing is rather baffling.
This was superduper Rick Scott’s Florida screw workers hardball. Somebody at Halifax paid some lawyer a lot of money to draw up that obscenity. It did not happen by accident. Somewhere they deliberated and decided to act. How is it these rock-ribbed conservative (there is no liberal media, morons) business types collapsed in the face of a little employee pushback? Did they not expect it? No wonder these people all fear unions. They’re confrontation-averse babies.
Maybe, just maybe, all this shows the power of shame. As I’m fond of writing, that’s the only weapon a lot of us have. Maybe this shows the power that, say, Leadership Lakeland might wield if it decided to be something other than a silly, self-aggrandizing frarority. What if Leadership Lakeland actually took positions on community issues? What if it actually condemned something? Send out an email and vote. Hell, condemn me with your first vote. At least you’d be doing something.
What if we had a Chamber of Commerce committed to promoting an ethical and prosperous business climate? Such an organization could rescind the membership of a major local institution like The Ledger if it behaved in this way. It’s something. Again, we tell workers they don’t need unions, because, you know, there’s harmony between ownership and labor. Why don’t you try to enforce an object lesson, Chamberians?
I will now pause so that you can enjoy a full belly laugh about those last two paragraphs. Finished? Ok. Good.
Anyway, I don’t give advice to people. But I’m going to give advice to people. You’ve got a brief reprieve, Ledger folks. Start looking. Consider anything that remotely allows you to keep the lifestyle you need. 7-11s, Safari parks, anything.
Fear and worry are corrosive. And you can find intellectual and creative fulfillment outside of work. You can find it right here at LL. The volunteer alternative media will welcome you with open arms. We’ll never assign you long, meaningless, boring projects. And we’ll never ask you to sign non compete clauses. We don’t fear competition. And you’re not a cost center to us.