Signed in Blood: Beware of Deals with the Devil

From The Watershed Chronicle

So here’s an interesting one; a company who has spent the past year cutting back on employee vacation time asking its employees to donate some of what they have left to other, sick employees who no longer have any paid leave.  How very generous of them.  It seems to me that it would make for significantly better employee relations and morale if the company itself actually gave back some of the time it has taken for the ill, but I guess the point here is to continue to eat away at whatever vacation time all employees have left rather than any actual humanitarian purpose, or genuine desire to help.

This is par for the course in today’s media atmosphere.  Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some rosy predictions spouted that the worst is behind us, things are starting to turn around, the bottom lines are looking brighter, etc.  It’s all complete bull.  We continue to see more and more layoffs (entirely confined to skill positions of writers, graphic designers, etc) and while the financial losses have slowed somewhat, they are still far outpacing any level with which cutbacks can keep up for long.  I’m still waiting for the headline that reads, “Major newspaper chain lays off 100 executives.”  I think I’ll be waiting a while for that one.

Which brings me to my point for today:  as skilled employees, what exactly are we holding on to with these jobs at this point?  It feels like we’re dying of consumption out here, losing a little more ground every day with no end in sight.  I know I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for good paying full time work to come along for over a year and a half now.  I think it’s time we come to grips with the reality that it’s likely not coming back.  Publishing, and print newspapers may indeed have a future, but our positions as content creators for these companies have accepted severe concessions to the point that any future work will almost definitely be of the independent contractor status, with significantly less money, no benefits and limited freedom to diversify our workloads.

Normally, I’m not opposed to independent contractor work; it allows a good bit of freedom of scheduling, and you can handle several jobs for different entities at the same time.  But the manner in which the atmosphere of communication is changing, with increasingly overlapping areas of competition, I expect that one of the banes of my personal existence will soon become more prevalent than it, unfortunately, already has; the non-compete agreement.

If there’s one area where we desperately need reform and regulation of the business community, it’s with regards to non-compete agreements.  These things are typically deals with the devil where an employee gets little or nothing and the employer gets total control of your working livelihood for periods of time far in excess of any just compensation.  I was once compelled into signing one of these evil little documents after a company I worked for was sold to a larger corporation.  Even though my job description and title didn’t change, the company forced all employees to sign on the dotted line not as a condition of continued employment, which would have been illegal under Maryland law, but in order to be “offered” employment by the new owner, a semantic difference worthy of the best attorney.  And when I inquired as to any compensation that would be given in lieu of my giving up my ability to work in my field for 12 months after leaving their employ, my question was met with the strictest, most blunt “no” I’ve ever heard.

Article Continues on the Watershed Chronicles

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