Advertiser unions vote to authorize a strike
Employees OK strike with 358-17 vote
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Six trade unions representing employees at the Honolulu Advertiser voted yesterday to authorize a strike.
The unions have been working under contract extensions since June 9, when the previous contract expired.
While the possibility of a strike is not immediate, union officials hope the vote will send a message to management that employees want to continue bargaining.
"The idea isn't to get a strike; the idea is to get a settlement that can be fair and that we can live with," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild.
Lee Webber, the newspaper's publisher and president, said the company has been sincerely working with the union's negotiating committee.
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Unionized employees of the Honolulu Advertiser overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike yesterday.
The vote was 358-17.
"It shows the members are resolved to get a better contract," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, one of six unions representing 600 Advertiser employees. "The members aren't buying what the company is selling."
Lee Webber, president and publisher of the Advertiser, said in a statement that the company has been "sincerely" working with the Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council, an umbrella group representing the six unions at the paper.
"Our belief is that we can come to an agreement," Webber said.
While last night's vote approves a strike, such an action would be at least 30 days away, Cahill said.
"There's a lot of work involved in setting up a strike," he said. "We'd rather put that energy into bargaining a contract, but this company won't bargain with us."
Union officials hope the vote shows the paper, which is owned by Gannett Co. Inc., that employees stand united in their desire for a better contract.
"We want to negotiate," said Mike Leidemann, an Advertiser reporter and president of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild. "We want them to come back to the table, and I think this sends a tremendous message; we're not going to roll over, just accept what they want."
More than 300 employees packed into a meeting hall at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union offices in Honolulu. After a private meeting, employees met with their respective unions and turned in their ballots.
The six unions at the paper represent printers, distributors, mail room workers, reporters, ad reps, circulation employees and others who are not management.
Union leaders say the company has not bargained with the unions. The company did not meet with the union from June to November, then on Jan. 25 presented a final offer that could be implemented if not ratified within 30 days.
The proposed contract would be retroactive from June 10, 2007, and run to March 1, 2009. The employee's last contract expired June 9 but continues because of an extension agreement.
The company's offer includes a 1 percent pay increase effective Oct. 27, 2008, a 1.5 percent bonus and higher medical premiums and drug costs for both HMSA and Kaiser members. Costs for medical office visits would increase for Kaiser members.
For many employees, the company's 1 percent offer, one-time bonus and proposed increase in health-care costs will result in losses of about $150 per month per employee, according to the Trades Council.
Ian Rutka, a sales rep at the paper, supported the strike authorization vote because he said the proposed contract was a "step backwards."
"Once we make this concession now, we never know what's going to be next," he said. "It's not fair. It's not fair at all."
Webber said, "The proposal we submitted was reasonable given the current and future economic conditions facing the newspaper industry, our state and the nation."
Before the meeting, Jane Sibley, who works in advertising at the paper, worried about a strike as the sole breadwinner in her family.
"I'm kind of scared because a strike would really be a burden for my family," she said. She hoped to have her questions answered at the meeting.
Also before the meeting, Wendell Asuka, who has been a circulation employee and ILWU member for 18 years, said it was the first time he had to "give back for the medical premium."
"It is a significant increase for us," he said. "I'm against that. From my standpoint, I just want to see what's fair. The wage increase seems so low. One percent -- it seems like a small amount when the cost of living is so high."
Unions representing Honolulu Advertiser employees:
» Hawaii Printing and Graphic Communications Union 413-N
» Graphic Communications International Union, Local 501
» Hawaii Newspaper Guild, TNG/CWA Local 39117
» The Honolulu Typographical Union 37, CWA Local 14921
» International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Lodge 1998
» International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142