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The End of the Newspaper Worker

With a daily circulation of approximately 17,000, the solidly right-wing Antelope Valley Press has proudly served the Palmdale, high desert area (about 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles) since its founding, way back in 1915. The AVP is the largest selling daily newspaper in the Valley.

But on August 1, AVP management informed its copy desk employees that their workload would be reduced to a maximum of 39 hours a week, thus making them ineligible for benefits. Only full-time, 40-hour a week employees would continue to qualify for benefits (Sorry, folks….you fell one hour short!).

This craven announcement was made by Cherie Bryant, AVP’s vice-president and general manager and was first reported on Jim Romenesko’s media blog. Instead of trying to maintain these benefits by resorting to creative alternatives (e.g,, moving employees into another group plan, backloading wages, gaining breathing room through voluntary/mandatory furloughs, etc.), AVP management invented a loophole and then arbitrarily and brutally exploited it.

What makes this move so disturbing is not simply that loyal, long-term newspaper staffers were abruptly stripped of their benefit package and banished to the economic wilderness, but that these sorts of company maneuvers are no longer rare enough to be shock-inducing. They no longer elicit outrage. Instead of public protests or collective fury or calls for government action, these maneuvers now draw responses like, “Hey, welcome to the club, pal,” or “It could be worse….at least you still have a job.”

Of course, the bitter irony here is not that this dreadful economic battering has become systemic, but that it’s occurring within the larger context of sociological triumph. Gays and lesbians now have equal rights; racial and ethnic minorities can’t be denied jobs simply because they’re not white; female secretaries can’t be routinely groped by piggish male bosses; schoolyard bullying has been rightly addressed. There are dozens more “triumphs” we could mention.

Not that bias and victimization no longer occur, because obviously they still do (if you happen to be a Moslem living in the U.S.—or a Sikh that people think is a Moslem, or a Mexican that people think is an Arab—good luck to you). But, clearly, since the 1950s, no one can deny that there has been profound emphasis placed on personal liberty and individual rights. When it comes to individual rights, expectations are sky-high.

Unless those expectations involve economics. Unless they speak to one’s economic future. Because when it comes to “economic rights,” worker expectations have not only been dramatically lowered, they are dangerously close to being in a state of free-fall. If this were a horror movie, workers expectations would be seen to have mutated into some horrific creature that not only terrorizes the community, but devours the mad scientist who created it.

To make matters worse, instead of being frightened—instead of being so terrified of the future that we set fire to our hair and go running into the streets—we hear people (not plutocrats but regular working folks) mindlessly parroting these lame, half-baked macroeconomic overviews that not only excuse the naked greed that’s been set loose upon the land, but actually defend it.

When standards and expectations get lowered beyond a certain point, no good can come from it. Yet people glibly say that decent, full-time jobs are anachronisms, that we have to recalibrate, that we have to adjust to the New Economy, that the days where sons and daughters followed parents into well-paying union jobs in factories and mills are over, and that we now live in a “global economy.” Okay, fine. We’re all fucked. But where’s the outrage?

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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