OC Register: A Stunning Lack of Integrity

You can tell a lot about the culture of a company by the way it treats its employees.  We hear from CEOs all the time how they believe that their employees are their greatest assets.  Unfortunately what these CEOs say doesn’t always correspond to the way they actually treat their “greatest assets.”

I spoke with a friend of mine today who has worked for the Orange County Register for the past 31 years.  He has been out on disability dealing with Stage 4 Colon Cancer for the past few months.  He learned on Friday that the Register had eliminated his position, effective immediately.

Employees have three basic needs: to be treated fairly and equitably through salary, benefits, and job security; to have a sense of achievement about their work and their company; and to have camaraderie with their co-workers. This can be found in every country and occupation, from research scientist to autoworker. It doesn’t matter whether it’s white-color or blue-collar; it applies to 95% of the workforce.

I have watched the Orange County Register attack public employees in their editorials as being over paid and recipients of bloated pensions.  In their lead editorial today they opined about how the current County Board of Supervisors “sided with taxpayers by challenging retroactive benefits boost for retired deputies.” 

The editorial conveniently forgets that at the time the benefits were enacted three conditions were in place that drove the decisions made. First, the 3% @ 50 pension benefit had become the standard for public safety employees in California. Any jurisdiction wishing to hire qualified law enforcement personnel needed to provide this benefit.  Second, at the time the benefit was negotiated, we were experiencing an economic upturn in California and Orange County.  The financial calculations and forecasts indicated that the contributions necessary to meet the future liabilities were manageable. Third, the public support for law enforcement and public safety personnel was at an all time high after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  Virtually every Republican in the state was lining up behind public safety employees, tripping over themselves to move to the front of the line and demonstrate how much they supported public safety.

Yet the Orange County Register editors ignore those inconvenient truths and bash the prior Board of Supervisors (all Republicans) as lap dogs of greedy unions.  This position was puzzling to me until I spoke to my friend today.

He started chemo about a month ago and was hoping that his doctor would let him return to work at least part time.  His doctor had previously indicated that he would more than likely be out on disability for at least a year, but the financial strain would be significant and he felt that he would certainly lose his job if he was out that long.

As of Friday, August 3rd he wont have to worry about his job.  The Register told him that his job had been eliminated.  He has lost his job after 31 years of dedicated service.  He will receive no severance pay, no buyout, and will lose his medical insurance.  Well, if he can afford his $800 COBRA premium, I guess he can keep the insurance for 18 months. After that, no matter how much he can afford, at his age and now with a history of cancer he will not be able to get any insurance at all.

He was told that he can apply for a new job at the Register, but he figures that it is unlikely he would qualify given his current medical condition and the fact that more than 100 other employees, who have now lost or will soon lose their jobs, will be competing for those same few vacancies. At 61 years old, my guess is that my friend would be more likely to find a minimum wage job working at WalMart as a greeter.

So I’m no longer surprised at the Register’s position on public employees.  Considering how they treat their people, I’m glad I don’t work for them.  I understand now why people like John Seiler, who took the Register’s buyout offer earlier this year, have no problem being critical of public employees and their benefits.  Heck, he got his so why should he care.  I guess that goes for the editors like Steven Greenhut as well who hold the same point of view.  I doubt he has to worry much about getting laid off.  The worst he has to fear would be getting a golden buyout offer. 

But Steven, I do wonder how you feel about the way your corporate bosses have treated a guy you’ve probably known for years and talked to from time to time in the halls of the Register?  I don’t expect an answer; I know you have to worry about your job.

One final note, on August 1, 2007 the Register’s parent corporation Freedom Communications, Inc. announced the purchase of five publications from Colusa Publishing Company, Inc., a Morris Newspaper Corporation in northern California. The publications include: The Willows Journal, Willows, Calif.; Orland Press-Register, Orland, Calif.; Colusa County Sun-Herald, Colusa, Calif.; the Corning Observer, Corning, Calif. and Smart Shopper, Orland, Calif.

“The acquisition of these publications shows our belief in community newspapers,” said Jonathan Segal, president of Freedom’s Community Newspapers Division.

Well Jonathan, to bad for my friend, you and the corporation you help run have no belief in your employees, and no integrity as an employer.  It certainly doesn’t speak well for Freedom Communications moral and ethical character when you eliminate the job of a 31 year employee while he is out on disability, fighting cancer.

Looks to me like the employees of the Orange County Register could use some of that good old union representation they let go of years ago.  As the phrase goes, “Live Better, Work Union.”

It was interesting to read the “Values” identified on the Freedom Communications, Inc. website.  I have a hard time believing they actually apply any of these values in the management of their business.

FREEDOM VALUES

Respect for Individual Freedom
We cherish the basic freedom of individual expression, our individual rights to be, to think, to act, to fulfill our destinies as we understand them — knowing that our own freedom should only be limited by respect for the rights of others to their individual freedoms. This founding principle of our great nation is the guiding principle of our enterprise.

Self-Responsibility
We understand that the choices we make in life have consequences and that we are accountable for those consequences. We strive to make choices that are constructive and upbuilding for ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our colleagues and customers, and for the communities in which we live.

Integrity
We firmly adhere to a personal code of values. These values are the bedrock of our relationships, both personal and professional. Our integrity develops out of respect for ourselves and others, and it carries with it a strong sense of moral responsibility. We demonstrate integrity by striving to do what is right.

Community
We are a community, a free association of human beings sharing values, bonded by daily experiences and secure in the knowledge that we care for and respect each other. We are united by our humanity and our shared commitments. We acknowledge the differences among us, as well as our common needs. We respect the guidance of those who are wiser and more experienced than we are in building our enterprise and in sustaining our unique bond.

Life-Long Learning
We seize the opportunity to learn — to seek, to listen, to grow and to achieve our full potential. Moreover, we support the learning of others by striving to open minds, to enlighten those around us and to assist those engaged in the processes of development and discovery. Learning is one of our highest priorities. It is constant and without end.

I hope the readers of the Orange County Register will consider Freedom Communication’s adherence to its stated values when they consider the editiorial positions their flagship publication takes.

  14 comments for “OC Register: A Stunning Lack of Integrity

  1. August 6, 2007 at 4:30 am

    This is fantastic stuff Chris. While we should not ignore the Register because of their negative impact, it certainly is tempting, isn’t it? It’s difficult to tell the difference between them and the Flash Report and other blatantly conservative organizations. When I was living in the OC, I subscribed to the Register, unaware of the nature of the beast. I quickly unsubscribed after about reading two weeks of the garbage that is spewed on their pages.

    Unions are even more critical in an age of rising inequality. They are forces of redistribution from capital to labor, which results in a growing of the middle class. While Republicans and conservatives claim to champion the middle class, you cannot do so without supporting the aims of unions. Greenhut and his ilk would be wise to review American history to discover how we expand the middle class. As Paul Krugman writes unions are the chief force for good in the fight against income inequality.

    Public employee unions have a special place because of the need to maintain a quality workforce for jobs which tend to make lower wages than comparable jobs in the private sector. That the Register refuses to acknowledge some very basic truths is far more telling of their values than what they write in some mission statement.

  2. RHackett
    August 6, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Greenhut has stated he admires Ayn Rand’s concept of objectivism. Which is in essence, “it’s all about me.”

    Why would you be surprised at how the Register treats someone when their hired mouthpiece believes it’s okay to screw the individual at their worst time.

  3. Steven Greenhut
    August 6, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    I see, Chris …

    Because I am opposed to the granting of unsustainable levels of benefits to public employees, then I must be happy that the newspaper is laying people off and must be indifferent to the sad plight of your friend. Is that your suggestion? Does it really make you feel better to think that those of us who disagree with you on political issues must be heartless? I know it’s easier that way. Your depiction of John Seiler is so off the mark, it’s laughable. I’ll give you his number and you can talk to him directly rather than suggest that he has an “I got mine, who cares about you?” attitude.

    I’m pretty upset about the layoffs and — despite your strange allegation — I am no more protected than anybody else. A golden buyout? What planet are you living on?

    Of course, in a private business — unlike the government, which can tap an endless supply of taxpayer dollars — we are “at will” hires. And if the company needs to cut costs it cuts them … it can’t just foist them onto the public. That’s the reality. Newspapers are having tough times.

    And, despite what some folks insist, I am NOT an Objectivist. I like Rand’s books, to the degree that they depict the personality of government looters and corporate welfare queens, but I do NOT subscribe to the culture of selfishness.

  4. RHackett
    August 6, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    Steve,

    Thanks for your response. However, those of us who read your writings over the years observe your animous towards public employees, but rarely if ever focus any attention on those private companies who are able to acquire de facto monopolies. i.e. cable, trash, utility, or ambulance companies.

    At the federal level, conservatives (while I haven’t seen you do this) worship at the altar of military hardware as if all those tanks and planes just miracle themselves into existence. I’ll be more than happy to focus a keen eye on the benefits afforded police and firefighters when I see conservatives take a keen interest in the executive compensation of companies like Boeing or General Electric whose officers not only have lavish compensation, they have lavish pension plans (most of them the defined benefit type), private jets available for private use etc.

    It is only by the narrowest definition of terms these enterprises are considered a private company. All those exec perks are paid via taxation. And yet I never hear anyone raise any concern.

    I can at least see benefit to the pay and benefits of police and firefighters. Something I don’t see in defense industry (who are shameless about wrapping themselves in the flag to sell another weapon) executives.

  5. August 6, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Steven,

    Sad to know that you aren’t in a protected class at the Register. You’re in the same boat with the rest of the people there.

    I understand that newspapers are having a tough time, but you have to admit the callous way in which Freedom Communications has acted is a clear example of what is so ugly about corporate management when it is not governed by ethical behavior.

    Despite popular belief, government workers are also “at will” employees. The only reason any of us County workers have any security at is is because we have negotiated it through our unions. We have certain rights to process, but the standards for how layoffs are implemented are a product of negotiation. In the County the newest worker is the first to be let go, and also the first to be considered for an opening. Senior employees like my friend, cannot just have their job eliminated because they have been around longer and make more money.

  6. Dan Chmielewski
    August 7, 2007 at 1:41 am

    Chris, Steve – the real culprit here is those on Wall Street who continue to demand a 20 percent profit margin every year from newspapers. I do think the Register needs to better reflect the changing demographic of OC. Not as libertarian. Not as conservative as before. It is a tragedy that anyone from the Reg has to lose their job.

  7. August 7, 2007 at 7:43 am

    If you want to change the political philosophy of the Register Dan, why don’t you get a bunch of like minded liberals together and make a bid for the paper. Then you can tell OC how great liberalism is.

  8. Steven Greenhut
    August 7, 2007 at 8:58 am

    Dan,

    As you well know, the Register’s libertarian philosophy is confined to the edit pages. The LA Times, with its liberal edit page, is losing circulation faster than we are. The newspaper decline is industrywide, so by your logic the bulk of newspapers — most of which have liberal edit pages — should become more conservative or libertarian!

    By the way, how “conservative” are our views. We oppose the war, argue for the legalization of drugs, promote less restrictive borders, hate the Bush administration’s war on civil liberties, oppose subsidies to big corporations.

    Are you suggesting that we switch positions on those issues?

    I tend to think the problem in the newspaper industry is that few companies have strongly held values, but rather do what you suggest they do: tailor their principles as a way to appeal to a broader audience. That never works.

  9. PSURIFA
    August 7, 2007 at 9:04 am

    I read an intersting letter to the editor in the Register on Sunday. I attempted to post a reply but for some reason it hasn’t appeared on their web site. I am hoping that the Liberal OC’s understanding of freedom of speech will allow me to post it here. Perhaps I shouldn’t have titled my post “David L. Bahnsen is a hypocrite.” It may be a criminally punishable offense to criticize a member of the Lincoln Club in the pages of the Register. Please read my attempted post below and judge for yourself:

    Imagine my shock at discovering that Mr. Bahnsen is the “Senior Vice President in the Global Wealth Management Group of one of the premier Wall Street firms in the financial services industry.” His motive to destroy the defined benefit pensions of public employees in his words because “we contend that the more sensible retirement systems being implemented in the private sector (defined contribution plans like 401k platforms and Profit Sharing plans) actually are creating superior retirement lifestyles for their participants than are misguided and unaffordable pension plans.” truly need to be examined. I am sure that the majority of ex Enron and Worldcom employees would contradict the claims of a “superior retirement” through the 401ks and profit sharing they experienced with their employers. And exactly which “premier Wall St firm” do you think is salivating over the thought of thousands upon thousands of unsophistacted public employees now charged with investing their 401Ks? Most of these same public employees wouldn’t even have the safety net of social security. If you will benefit financially from the destruction of a public employee retirement system you should recuse yourself from the discussion.

  10. RHackett
    August 7, 2007 at 9:32 am

    And one other thing Steven. If the county employees were getting a pension that only paid them a nickel you would still write that they are overpaid.

    Your animosity towards government is well known and documented.

  11. RHackett
    August 7, 2007 at 11:46 pm
  12. August 8, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Hackett,

    Thanks for finding this and bring it to our attention. I find this statement in the memo most intersting.

    “None of this is easy. But the truth is, as we see revenue continue to fall, especially in print, our company needs to take strong action to regain some balance.

    So today we began a series of actions in the content center that include layoffs. Unlike the voluntary severance we went through last year, people this time are being asked to leave.”

    I find it interesting because, as I pointed out in my initial post Freedom Communications had no problem raising the cash to buy five northern California community papers one day earlier.

    If the Register isn’t making enough money, where are they finding the money to buy 5 other publications? This doesn’t make much sense.

  13. Dan Chmielewski
    August 9, 2007 at 12:21 am

    Allan/Steve —
    Apologies fo rthe delay in responding; just got back from Oahu. I’m surprised neither of you addressed Wall Street’s unrealistic 20 percent profit demands annually from newspapers as the real culprit here. You cannot cut your way to profitability and expect to put out a good product worth reading.

    Steve – your comment tells me you don’t read your own newspaper very well. Page one headlines are nearly always Pro-Republican or Sympathetic to Bush. Local Democratic candidates don;t nearly get the coverage the GOP ones do. Mallard Fillmore but no Doonesbury. I get 4 papers evry morning – the Reg, the LA Times, the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal. The Register is easily the most conservative of the lot. As far as libertarian principles go, congrats, you cater to 80,000 voters in the state.

    Allan, I’d actually like to put together a bid to buy the Irvine World News. I see the future of newspapers as realy big entities and smaller community newspapers, all with a big and integrated web presence.

  14. Darkley Newberry
    August 9, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Best Comment I have heard so far from the layoff love-in at the OCR:
    “Newspapers believe in human rights for everyone except their employees.” It has a ring to it. Did Winston Churchill say it first? Charles Dickens? Nope. Got it. Ernest Hemingway. At every newspaper he worked, he tended to get fired for not turning in the same schlock as everyone else in the press pool. Fiction is always an easier vehicle for the masses. Got to get back to mine.

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