By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
None of my journalism classes prepared me to deal with crises during my 35 years of publishing, including a lawsuit, a protest, troubled employees, US-China-Taiwan diplomacy problems, unethical competitors, threats from community members, and more.
While many stories are unprintable, I will share with you some of the traumas I faced over the years.
My employees contributed to some of the unexpected crises. How would you react if your own staff steals from you? What do you do when an employee is experiencing a miscarriage right in the office? What do you do when someone threatens your employee?
Sometimes, these challenges had to do with life and death. Once, a former employee shouted in distress, “Assunta, I am bleeding.” When I looked at the floor, there was so much blood, like a red carpet, spreading all over it. And it smelled horrible. I had never seen that much blood up close in my life. It’s one of the reasons I respect nurses and doctors. I called 911, then this woman’s husband. When everything calmed down, I wiped the blood off the floor.
My late mother-in-law heard what had happened, and she said, “You shouldn’t have cleaned the dirty stuff (blood). That’s bad luck. You have to ask your staff for a red envelope (to get rid of bad luck).”
What kind of logic was that? I never told my staff member what my mother-in-law said. If I didn’t do it, who would? I didn’t have an extra person in my office to clean. My team is part of our family. Sometimes, we just have to do what we have to do to take care of one another.
Another staff member never disclosed that he was diabetic. After working for me for six months, he had a seizure. That was scary, too. He kept saying, “sugar, sugar…” We didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, another staff member remembered his relative had the same illness — and that putting a little sugar in the patient’s mouth was the solution. We gave him some Coca-Cola. It worked like magic. He got up like the incident never happened. I scolded him for not telling us about his condition, for he could have died. Being a boss is like being a parent. We have to say things which employees don’t want to hear.
A few years ago, one of my staff members called late in the evening and asked for $10,000 in bail money. She was weeping like a baby in pain.
“It’s not for me, it’s for my boyfriend,” she explained. The drunken boyfriend was screaming so loud in the apartment, like he was hitting her, and the next door neighbor called the police, she said.
“If we don’t have the bail money, he will be in jail,” she begged us. “He will lose his job if he’s going to jail. Please, help me. I don’t want him to be in jail.”
“Did he hit you?” We just wanted to make sure that she would be safe with him. “No, he didn’t,” she reassured us.
“Tell him that he has to promise not to drink again,” I said sternly.
I was not in a crisis, she was. I treated her like my daughter. I didn’t want her to feel that she was alone. We were there for her when she needed us. My husband knew I wanted to help.
“But if the boyfriend gets in trouble again, we will lose the bail money,” my husband warned me.
I realized the risk I was taking. I did it for her, even though it benefited him. Fortunately, the boyfriend behaved. There were no more incidents after that.
Many years ago, an over 40-year-old employee enrolled at a community college. He didn’t buy a book required for class. Instead, he used our new copier to copy the book. Since he copied hundreds of pages, the machine broke down. What was disappointing was not just that he used the copier without asking for permission. We allowed him to start work an hour earlier (which meant paying him one hour more each day) because he had to drive his wife to work early.
Many of our Chinese Post employees are immigrants. The challenge for us is that many have the need to take long vacations to visit their families and friends in their native land. And they like to take one or two months off to go back to Asia. Their jobs cannot be replaced by temporary workers. Our solution is to cross train many staff members. Two months out of the year, we are so short staffed and have to work so hard to fill in, that we don’t even have time to breathe.
“You shouldn’t let them leave for so long,” my friends said.
Do we have any choice? We don’t pay our people the best. It’s not like we are a nonprofit where we can borrow managers from other agencies or get government funding to make ends meet.
Besides, it’s not easy to train people in our field.
Another stressor is the turnover of our employees. We hire high school and college students.
Once they graduate, they leave. Still, it’s exciting to see them grow. One former employee said, “When I came in, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t realize I was that bad until I looked back and saw how much I learned.”
How the U.S. Post Office impacts us
In 2015, the U.S. Postal Service seriously pondered ending its Saturday mail delivery due to a big budget deficit. When I heard the news, we called an emergency staff meeting. If the Postal Service shut down its Saturday delivery, it would be the end for us, too.
Our primary bread winner, Seattle Chinese Post, relies on Saturday delivery service for its second class mail. Our newspaper is the only connection to the outside world for many of our readers, from Port Townsend, Tukwila, Bellevue, Kirkland, Renton, Seattle and other cities.
Without getting their copy of the Chinese Post by Saturday, readers would cancel their subscriptions. Many loyal immigrant readers don’t visit the Chinatown International District because of the lack of transportation and time. Yet, those are the folks who need the Seattle Chinese Post most.
Thanks to a gridlock in Congress, the Postal Service’s proposal didn’t go through.
The minimum wage law
Two years ago, the City of Seattle implemented the $15 minimum wage law. Small ethnic businesses, already operating with a narrow profit margin, couldn’t afford such an increase in labor costs. News operation is labor-intensive and depends on human capital. It’s not like a factory where we can buy more machines to replace workers.
For our media business, making a profit is out of the question. We’re very thankful just to break even. With this new law, it will put us out of business sooner than we expected. The solution to this law is that both me and my husband have to be retired from the payroll — and work for free.
Ironically, we are volunteering for a supposedly for-profit organization. What it proves is, our commitment to the community. Even without pay, my passion for the Asian Weekly has not diminished.
When I reflect on all these crises, many are hard to relive, and yet, I relish them. I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Those experiences were valuable life lessons, which deepen my appreciation and gratitude to work with the community.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.