by Fred P. Gusoff
Freak for the week.
That’s what I’ve been feeling like Mondays through Fridays — you know, the time of the week when normal people are out in The Real World earning a living — ever since I inexplicably, unceremoniously got the boot from my job as managing editor at the Northeast Times, a well-regarded community newspaper in Northeast Philadelphia just over two months ago.
I poured my blood, sweat and tears, my heart, soul, conscience and time into a job that I really, really enjoyed for 25 years. I began as a freelance reporter in 1988, then a full-time reporter in 1989, then served as managing editor from 1993 until Feb. 1 of this year.
It was a job where my strong work ethic was on perpetual overdrive, but now I’ve been unwillingly thrust into the ranks of the unemployed. A bum, if you will. An unproductive entity whose talent, dedication, diligence and skill are all dressed up with no place to go.
Gentle readers, it’s not a pleasant feeling.
Despite going the extra umpteen miles at my job — long hours on production days with no overtime pay, multiple weeks of sick days and vacation time eventually wiped off the board because they (foolishly) had gone unused for many years, compensatory time rarely used, family vacations postponed or cut short, voluntary time on weekends to visit the office to put news on the paper’s Internet site — despite all of that, a cold, cruel, heartless decision by a couple of executives at the paper means all my hard work and bending over backward to do a great job seems to have been for naught.
Around 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday on the first day of the second month of the year, I was called into the office of one of the executives and given the patronizing speech probably familiar to so many in the working world: you’ve always been a valued employee, this is the worst thing we ever have to do, we hate to do this but “financial reasons” make it necessary, blah, blah, blah, blah – and then sent packing.
No notice, no appreciative wristwatch, no extension of company-subsidized health care (health care was cut off immediately). Just two weeks of severance pay. That was my reward for giving my all to the paper. Gee, thanks.
“I have two kids and a fiancée. What am I going to do?” That rhetorical question received went unanswered.
This apparently is how Corporate America treats people.
How do they spell gratitude? B-E-T-R-A-Y-A-L. Twenty-five years of deep loyalty at one company, all down the drain.
The sting and the stench of the termination will fade to black; the humiliation of an ill-advised, mean-spirited decision that has been lambasted by friends, loved ones, industry colleagues and the many good folks with whom I have been in contact via my job, will disappear as well — especially when my networking and job search get me back on my feet.
The bittersweet irony is that six weeks after I was forced out of the company for no valid reason, I won a Keystone Press award — journalism’s way of saying “job very well done” — for front page design for work I had done last year. It’s my fourth Keystone award at the newspaper. So, the company jettisoned an award-winning employee who has a mortgage, a high tax bill and all the other staples of life. Shame on them.
So, like so many other mid-level managers who have been on the receiving end of cruel corporate decisions, while I search for a new way to make a living, I’m forced to subsist on unemployment compensation in a still-bleak economy (especially so in the dying newspaper profession). Yes, sure, we paid into the state’s unemployment fund, and unemployment benefits exist as a safety net, but still, what a humiliating, demoralizing position to be in: Out of a job through no fault of my own. But then again, maybe it was my fault:
I worked so hard, it cost me my job.
Memo to all you poor souls fortunate enough to be in the working world: Do your time, and do the best you can. And beware of back-stabbers in the workplace.
Fred P. Gusoff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org