The biggest national news story of the past four years is playing out in miniature among the Montana newspaper holdings of Lee Enterprise–the top boss gets a huge chunk of change while the people who actually do the work get the shaft.
Mary Junck, CEO of Iowa-based Lee Enterprises, dragged the company into a financial mess until the company finally sought bankruptcy protection… and this week she got a $500,000 bonus! For steering the company through these tough economic times!
And on the same day as news of Junck’s bonus hit the Web, 10 of the chain’s workers in Butte, Helena, Billings and Missoula have been laid off or accepted cheap buyouts–one week’s pay for every year worked.
The three employees who took the buyouts face a mixed blessing. Sure, they’ll get after-tax final checks in the neighborhood of $20,000, but the buyout-receivers won’t be eligible for unemployment insurance. Plus, continued health insurance through COBRA will cost more than $600 per month, and none is near the age of eligibility for Medicare.
Award-winning reporter Donna Healy of the Gazette in Billings, who accepted a buyout, looked with fondness over her career. “I’ve had the sweetest beat in the newsroom for a very long time. I’m grateful for that,” Healy said today. She hopes to land a job with a Billings-based nonprofit.
Two were laid off in Butte. One of the five who was laid off in Helena yesterday said today that her head was reeling, especially because she was scheduled to work for two more days. (I don’t feel like including her name right now, unless you want to pass along job ideas. If that’s the case, email me.)
“I feel like I got dumped, but I’ve still got a bunch of stuff at the guy’s house,” she said.
Nobody I talked to had more than a vague idea of what would come next.
Oh, and the bonus for Mary Junck? That and the $250,000 bonus for the company’s CFO would have been more than enough to keep those workers on-the-job for more than two years.
And I should pass on a few more tidbits. Since Junck engineered the debt-leveraged purchase in 2005 of the Pulitzer chain of newspapers, Lee’s stock has performed a stunning dive from a high monthly average of $48.98 in June of 2004 to a low of $.29 in February of 2009. Lately, it’s been hovering a dime or so over a dollar.
Meanwhile, over the past five years the company has slashed its staff and benefits across all of its papers.
One Lee employee put it best, likening the raw deal to being hit by an exploding “shit balloon.”
You know journalists…. Always cracking wry jokes.
*A previous version of this post directed readers to another blog called “Lee Watch” which has gone dark. I’ll check more closely before steering you to inactive sites. Also, this version has the updated number of layoffs.