Elise Smith and Leigh Ghiz were two of the 239 Zoom employees told they would be laid off — with all benefits — this week. The two had worked for Zoom for the better part of two decades, including 14 years as reporters and dozens of years in communications. Smith joined the news service as a mailroom clerk in 1993, moving through various jobs and promotions until being named an editor in 2009. Ghiz was a marriage and family editor since 2012, rising to her current role in 2015. Here are excerpts from the stories they shared with their fellow Zoom employees:
From Smith, whose final day is July 28:
I remember looking at my phone and seeing a stack of pink slips, followed shortly by the address of the office. The news came over the day’s kitchen radio, over an improvised
recorded message with the words “PRESS ROOM” scrolling over text on the screen. Zoom called all of its employees with the news. We were told we were getting laid off as many as 3,000 people this year. The amount was huge and impossible to know what to do. It was also awful.
For two hours the nervous, hurt employees at Zoom were told to sit quietly in silence and sign their pink slips. We saw the writing on the wall as our names were called, before being told we would soon be gone. Our faces and emotions ranged from complete shock to pitiful resignation.
If you don’t tell anyone what is happening, what are you supposed to do? I was asked. We all decided to tell friends, family and co-workers. What could anyone do but go about our days without much else to do? Even the most nervous turned on their faucets and drank water, feeling the relief that everything would be over soon.
I want people to remember those last two hours when we were told we would not be coming back to work and how grateful I am for the supportive Zoom employees and employees in D.C. It was an empty building, but we stayed there until we were all officially told.
I had spent the first part of the morning in the office, fielding calls from friends and colleagues, in an attempt to keep my name out of the early rounds of layoffs. It was hard: When I got a call at 8:25 a.m., asking if I wanted to know about my status, I still felt “the distance” between myself and those around me.
It wasn’t until I stepped into a room with 280 colleagues, under President’s McKay’s office, and was told the bad news in front of our president that I actually started to process what was happening. I was dazed, overwhelmed. I couldn’t tell you why. I have no idea what it felt like to walk in and see less of me in Zoom’s office or those in our company’s newsroom.
The news came as an overwhelmingly numbing surprise — and may feel more so to some employees than others. For me, it felt like my world had fallen away, like I was trapped in an airport limbo.
I was entirely surprised when I learned that the layoffs would affect so many employees from communities whose stories are critical to humanizing the people in our community. For me, these layoffs are about silencing immigrant voices, local poverty, poverty of color, and regional and global economic inequality, as well as communities of color whose voices and stories are ignored. They are about silencing women’s voices. They are about silencing people of color’s stories. They are about silencing gay, trans, queer and disabled peoples’ stories. It isn’t the cutbacks I am angry about, though.
It is the lack of leadership and strategy. It is the lack of community. It is the lack of risk-taking and bravery on the part of the company. It is the decision to buy out employees instead of let them do their job. It is the failure to stand up and tell Washingtonians that we are sacrificing — that we could simply put up with this and survive. That we did not give into the pressure to make decisions that are destructive in their long-term impact and impact on us personally.
I understand why Zoom did what it did, and that the news service had to make a tight financial cut. I understood the company’s need to lay people off this way, but it can’t have been easy. There must have been a way, somehow. What was it about my job that needed to be cut? Why did Zoom not do the responsible thing and buy out these employees? I feel there is more to the story than what has been shared publicly.