Friday, June 13, 2003

Unionized employees of The Honolulu Advertiser waved at passing motorists during an informational gathering in front of the newspaper's building. They rallied to mark more than a year since their contract expired.

Newspaper workers
stage union protest

The Advertiser's employee groups
have been in contract negotiations
for more than a year

Members of six unions representing about 600 workers at The Honolulu Advertiser rallied outside the newspaper's offices from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. yesterday to protest more than a year of fruitless contract talks.

Their contracts expired June 9, 2002, but negotiations with newspaper owner Gannett Co. Inc. have been ongoing for more than 14 months, said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer with the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.

Employees have been working under an extension of their old contracts for a year, he said. "We signed an agreement to extend through the course of negotiations but either party could cancel with 30 days notice."

Advertiser reporters, photographers and graphic artists withheld their bylines from the two editions of yesterday's paper to protest the lack of progress.

"It's a way for us to show our displeasure without impacting the company's operations or its fortunes," said Dan Nakaso, a business section reporter.

Employees say they are frustrated.

"I think a lot of people feel this is dragging on for too long and they are being treated with disrespect," said Johnny Brannon, a city desk reporter.

"It's never taken this long," said Norma Bastis who works in the retail sales department.

"A lot of people are frustrated because it's been a whole year now, " said Andreas Arvman, the paper's online content editor.

Business reporter John Duchemin, who has worked for three Gannett-owned newspapers including Advertiser, said the company's demand to institute a four-year wage freeze makes no sense given the corporation's profitable track record.

"They've had good earnings for the last few quarters, yet now they are asking for a wage freeze even though hypothetically the economy is better now. So the only reason to do that is to make a quick buck off someone's back," he said.

Originally the company had asked employees to take an 11 percent wage cut, but switched to the pay freeze after the union refused to budge, the Guild's Cahill said.

He added employees are also upset about proposed changes that would create a two-tiered system of wages, sick leave and vacation benefits, with lesser compensation for new employees. Other proposals include higher co-payments for health insurance and cutting family health coverage for part-time employees.

And a proposed change to the company pension plan would save the company money, but mean a much-reduced monthly retirement benefit for future employees, Cahill said.

Advertiser General Manager Dennis Francis and Publisher Mike Fisch were both traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment about the rally. But, in a statement issued in advance of the demonstration, Francis accused the unions of inflaming employees and described the tactics as "unconscionable."


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