Layoff lessons

Jobs workshop takes an unexpected turn for former Bee employees

Ramon Coronado is one of 128 employees recently laid off at The Sacramento Bee

It was billed as a résumé-writing and interviewing skills workshop, but it was more like group therapy.

“You can visit Pity City, but don’t stay there,” the motivational speaker told the laid-off newspaper employees in Sacramento recently.

Sitting in small groups were three press operators, a graphic artist, a newspaper-delivery troubleshooter, a copy editor and a reporter.

To open the daylong session, everyone was asked to share what they viewed as their biggest obstacle in finding a new job.

Anger, fear, resentment and bewilderment underscored the group’s rambling responses.

Then one of the press operators, a 6-foot, 275-pound man with a granite face and searching eyes like a wolf, started to speak. But something got in his way.

Everyone turned and focused on him. They all stopped breathing at the same time to make sure they weren’t mistaken in what they were hearing and seeing.

The man’s voice cracked as his throat filled with emotion. He was about to cry, but he stopped himself.

And so the day began.

It was an odd mix of folks, described by the speaker as a group of circles, triangles and squares.

The reporter had three decades of daily-newspaper experience, 18 years covering court cases in Sacramento.

Every year, hundreds of stories appeared in the newspaper with his byline. Some were the region’s most celebrated cases, others were less known. He had been reassigned to Roseville covering city council meetings before he was laid off.

The graphic artist had mastered his pen and paper skills after years of tireless practice and training, only to find his services were being replaced with Internet Web design.

Another press operator was an older man who had his shirt buttoned to the top. The presses never broke down under his command, he said.

The third press operator was a smiling woman who laughed from her belly when she talked about enjoying being with children as much as she liked working in the pressroom. Each press operator described their job as obsolete. They said they felt like dinosaurs.

The copy editor had been laid off before, but with her network of contacts she was determined to bounce back despite a physical disability that has her in a wheelchair. She writes with a pen jammed next to her big toe.

Then there was the newspaper-delivery troubleshooter.

“I’m the guy the customer calls to complain about not getting the paper in the morning,” the former Marine said.

He too talked about his work and the decades of service to the company, but unlike the others, he almost lost his life on the job.

It was on July 31, 2005, when an adult and two juveniles jumped him at a Del Paso Heights apartment complex. It was about 5 a.m.

Newspaper accounts of the crime said the thugs wanted to steal the delivery van. They gave up when they discovered that neither knew who to operate a stick shift, court testimony showed.

Frustrated, they pounded the elderly man with their fists, leaving him in a coma. He was hospitalized for a week.

During a doughnut break at the workshop, the delivery man leaned over to the reporter and mentioned that the writer’s name was familiar. Was the reporter the same writer who covered the delivery man’s court case?

After the years had passed, the freak chance that their paths would cross again was remote. But it was true and sadly amusing at such a setting.

The workshop was beneficial.

It showed the former employees how to spruce up their résumés with carefully crafted language and how to maneuver through the land mines of demanding interviews. It was especially helpful for those in attendance who hadn’t used those skills in a long time.

At day’s end, the group collected in the parking lot. They said their goodbyes and exchanged wishes of good luck.

“You know, after the beating, the cops told me never to tell anybody about it. They said you never know who is out there and what can happen,” the deliveryman told the reporter.

“I didn’t talk about it. I let you talk about it in your stories,” he told the former courthouse writer.