Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What does a company owe somebody when they shoo them out the door?

I don’t know Pat Bruno – the long-time (and now former) restaurant critic of the Chicago Sun-Times. And I’m really not interested in writing about the way he was let go from his position at the newspaper this week.

But what catches my attention is his comment that he is upset that a higher-ranking editor, if not the publisher himself, should have been the one who gave him the word that he was no longer employed at The Bright One.

I’D SAY HE was lucky to get the human touch at all.

I still remember when my final stint with United Press International came to an end just over six years ago. I got my farewell by e-mail from an editor in Washington.

It was succinct and told me how budgets had just been hacked to pieces and how the wire service could no longer afford to pay me.

It came on an “April 1.” For an instant, I contemplated that this was somebody’s warped idea of a gag. Then I remembered that for UPI, April 1 was the beginning of the new fiscal year.

APRIL 1 TO March 31. They began a new year without me and the commentaries I had written for the wire service about so-called Latino issues for roughly the last three of the dozen years that I purported to be one of those legendary UPI men who was “at the scene” wherever in the world news was breaking.

Then again, I remember my most recent lay-off – one from a company that monitored news broadcasts across the country. I was told face-to-face that I was no longer employed from a boss that was reading from a legal script – the point of which was to get me to sign a document saying I would take an insignificant severance offer and leave without contemplating legal action.

By comparison, an April 1 e-mail seems downright humorous.

Of course, I’m sure there are many reporter-types these days who can tell even harsher stories about being let go. I have never had to deal with a situation where I was escorted out of the building by security, without even being permitted to clean out my desk of any personal possessions.

FOR THAT MATTER, people of just about any occupation who lost their spot on a payroll so that management could bolster the bottom line and pretend that their profit margin still made them a successful company.

Which makes it kind of hard for me to sympathize with anyone who feels a little bitter that they didn’t get the appropriate send-off. Join the club. What makes you think you’re entitled to a fond farewell when so many other people are getting that doorknob in their derriere as security escorts them from the building.

I couldn’t help but notice in the news coverage of Bruno’s departure from the Sun-Times that he says, “I wasn’t expecting roses at my feet, …”

Actually, I’m surprised they didn’t hand him a bouquet of roses – thorns first so that he sticks himself in the process.

SO AS I wrote before, Join the Club! Here’s hoping that Bruno figures out a way to keep himself occupied while also managing to bring in bits of income – just as many people have managed to do with themselves in recent years.

In my case, it is publishing this weblog and its sister site, The South Chicagoan, as well as doing some work for one of the suburban daily newspapers (that in my busiest weeks can match my old full-time weekly income but in my worst weeks seems reminiscent of my old $190-a-week pay at the now-defunct City News Bureau of Chicago) and writing the occasional free-lance feature elsewhere.

I joke that I have become a literary prostitute. I write for whoever is interested in publishing me. I do it for the money.

And when I write for this site, I do it for the fun of keeping up with the news cycle while also asserting my presence in the public realm (which is probably about as insignificant a speck as Planet Earth is in the overall scheme of the Universe).

IF I’M REALLY going to have to endure a professional life of no security and erratic pay, I might as well do work that I personally enjoy and see a point to.

Which might be the best advice I could offer anyone who is enduring these days a stint of collecting unemployment benefits – just like a former editor of mine who himself wound up losing out on his job just last week.


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