The chain of pain

lostIt's been a rough 24 hours for the LA Times Layoff Class of '08, of which I am a member. Sam Zell has taken his titanic debt purchase, The Tribune Co., into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and right now, it seems there aren't enough lifeboats to go around. Staffers within the LA Times are worried, too, but they have access to information. Out here we're making do with forwarded emails and second-hand news, which includes the fact that severance payments have now stopped.

I was on staff for barely a year so my package wasn't so much a parachute as a Kleenex. Still, the sudden freeze of those last few checks makes life perilous. For colleagues who are owed much, much more, and who thought they had a bit of breathing room to find new work in an industry evaporating beneath their feet, the news is devastating.

If you're in search of information, let me save you some time. Awakened by anxiety at 4 a.m., I fret and pace and freak out the pets until the Trib's Chicago offices are open. First call: Tribune Benefits Service Center at 800-872-2222. A nice man tells me that yes, my checks have now stopped. Will this week's check, at least, still arrive? He doesn't know. How about the payment for my unused vacation time? He doesn't know. Call Payroll at 800-435-7186, he says.

A nice man at Payroll reads from the same script as the Benefits guy, then tells me to call the bankruptcy hotline, which is 888-287-7568. There, a nice woman named Brenda asks for my name, phone number and address, which I can hear her typing into a data base. I'm asking my questions and she's typing them into that data base and in the end she doesn't have any answers and suggests I call the Benefits Center. Which is where this rondelay began. I tell her as much and it's clear there's nothing left to do but wait.

"I'm so sorry for what's happening," she says just as we hang up. But what, exactly, is happening? That's what we need to know.

Photo: Arne Nævra

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