Viacom Apologizes To Permalancers, Returns 401Ks To Some

Viacom finally got it together enough yesterday to address the fact that they'd seriously mishandled the announcement of major cuts to freelancer benefits."We understand there are many valid questions, concerns and bad feelings around the new policies for freelance, in-house and project-based temporary employees and the way they were communicated," reads a memo issued late yesterday from executive vice president of human resources, JoAnne Griffith. "We are listening closely to the response and moving to quickly address the questions and concerns by making some immediate changes, based on your feedback." Was that really so hard? Where have you been all week, JoAnne?

Changes to employee benefits and responsibilities happen, even if you're a giant like Viacom. Shaving costs is part of running a business, especially one in an industry whose prototype is changing rapidly. That said, there's a way to give bad news to employees (even those oh-so-lowly contractors!) and a way not to. Communicating the changes through HR reps unarmed with the salient details? Not recommended. Burying (or not mentioning!) the most significant of those changes in whatever paperwork you do give out? Not recommended. Giving your staff four days to stew (and organize!) before you address their issues? Not at all recommended. Allowing even a few of them to learn about the changes from the Internets? Not recommended.

At least the full memo offers some concessions to permalancers.

_____________________________________________
From: Office Of JoAnne Griffith
Sent: Thursday, December 06, 2007 5:01 PM
To: M_MTVN__ALL
Subject: Important Communication For Freelancers and Temporary Employees

We understand there are many valid questions, concerns and bad feelings around the new policies for freelance, in-house and project-based temporary employees and the way they were communicated. We are listening closely to the response and moving to quickly address the questions and concerns by making some immediate changes, based on your feedback.

First, on the changes, we are going to do the following:

We are accelerating and expanding eligibility to enable freelance, in-house and project-based temporary employees who have been working with us consistently since March 1, 2007 to have grandfathered eligibility for the new plan as of January 1, 2008.

Second, we are going to offer all grandfathered benefits-eligible employees and Nickelodeon Animation Studios (NYC and Burbank) the opportunity to participate in a new 401K plan, open for enrollment in first quarter, 2008.

Finally, we have extended the deadline to submit new start paperwork and deal memos to Cast and Crew to Friday, December 14th.

In order to answer the questions and concerns that are being raised, HR representatives, including myself, will be available for benefit information sessions for all freelance and temporary employees on:

Friday, December 7th, 11:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m., Conference Room 44-02

Tuesday, December 11th, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., Conference Room 44-02

Thursday, December 13th, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., Conference Room 44-02

Catherine Houser will be providing details about information sessions on the West Coast and in the regions.

We understand that some of the changes are not being well-received and we appreciate your feedback. To put them in context, all benefits programs in our company and in our industry have undergone change, and our new programs and policies are still highly competitive with the rest of our industry. On the plus side, we no longer require that freelancers and temporary employees work with us consistently for a year before becoming eligible for benefits, but rather they will need to work 1,280 hours (seven months based on a 40-hour work week).

We hope that this is a good first step in responding to your feedback, and we look forward to continuing to address your questions and concerns.