CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie addressed union members of the Honolulu Advertiser newspaper yesterday in a show of support. Advertiser employees are protesting what union officials termed a final offer by Gannett Co. But newspaper officials said yesterday that they planned to resume negotiations.
Advertiser asserts intent to resume talks after rally
Union officials representing Honolulu Advertiser employees said yesterday that the newspaper's parent company has been quiet on whether contract negotiations will resume.
"Not even a murmur," Wayne Cahill, administrator officer for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, said yesterday.
On Sunday, union members rejected the company's latest contract offer and voted 358-17 to authorize a strike, as they tried to bring Gannett officials back to the bargaining table.
Newspaper officials said yesterday that contrary to union claims, they had planned to resume negotiations if their latest offer was rejected.
"It's unfortunate, but not alarming, that collective bargaining is often accompanied by harsh words," Lee P. Webber, the Advertiser's president and publisher, said in a news release. "The Advertiser is confident that the process will produce a mutually agreeable contract that fairly compensates our employees while ensuring the long-term viability of the newspaper."
Webber's response came after union statements that the company made a "final offer" to its members after months of no negotiations.
After hearing Webber's response that the company was willing to bargain again, Cahill said, "That's not what the offer said, but we're glad to know that. That's actually a major sea change."
Cahill said the company has not set a bargaining date, and Webber gave no indication on when the company will continue negotiations.
Union officials have said the proposal was a "final offer" from the newspaper's parent company, Gannett Co., the largest newspaper company in the nation.
More than 100 Advertiser employees rallied yesterday at the newspaper's front steps to protest the company's proposal. They were joined by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who shouted his distaste with the situation.
"It's 2008," Abercrombie said. "How is it possible for any responsible executive in the United States of America today to look his or her employees in the eye and tell them their health care is gonna get cut? Shame on you!"
The contract proposal includes a 1 percent pay raise effective in October and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. The five unions representing the 600 employees protest higher medical premiums and drug costs for HMSA and Kaiser Permanente members, which they said would result in real-dollar losses of $150 a month.
Company officials met with the unions three times between May and June. Another meeting was held in June to extend the expired contract.
No other meetings were scheduled until November, since the paper's former publisher, Mike Fisch, left and Webber took the helm. Webber was the publisher of the Pacific Daily News, Gannett's daily newspaper in Guam. Since then, six meetings were held before Gannett made its offer.
The company said its proposal would mean its employees will still pay less for health insurance than most Honolulu workers.
Citing data from the Hawaii Employers Council and the U.S. Department of Labor, the company said its wages are still above market for comparable positions.
"Our newest contract offer keeps our valuable employees with the highest salaries and best benefits in Hawaii's publishing industry," Webber said. He reiterated that the newspaper must adapt to changing economic conditions.
Cahill said the proposal still amounts to a pay cut, which the workers will not accept.
Abercrombie offered his support to the unions and said he met with Webber on Tuesday. He noted that Gannett is reporting revenues in the billions in recent years, citing the company's own reports.
"They just want even more," Abercrombie said. "They've lost all perspective on what this business is all about. ... Their position is indefensible, and Mr. Webber didn't want to carry it further with that."
Abercrombie's rambunctious comments garnered cheers and praise from the employees, who rallied in front of the building during their lunch hour.
"Follow the contract," Cahill said through a megaphone. "If you have work that you sometimes do at home, stop doing it at home. Do it in the office because you don't get any thanks for that work at all."