Judge rules against paper
HILO » Following a trial last year, a federal labor judge has ruled that the Hawaii Tribune-Herald violated the rights of four of its employees in 2005 and 2006, including illegally disciplining two and firing two.
Administrative Law Judge John J. McCarrick ruled Thursday that the Hilo-based paper took the illegal action to limit union activity by the employees.
The Tribune-Herald is owned by Stephens Media LLC of Las Vegas. The paper is believed to be the only one that is unionized among Stephens' several dozen papers.
The employees said they took their actions, including making a secret tape recording of reporter Dave Smith meeting with editor Dave Bock, because Bock was not allowing them to have witnesses at meetings with him, in violation of federal law.
"I conclude that no employer policy or law was violated when Smith made the secret recording of his March 3, 2006, meeting with Bock," McCarrick wrote.
McCarrick ordered reporter Hunter Bishop, fired in 2005, and reporter Smith, fired in 2006, reinstated with back pay and interest. Bishop has been working for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild union since he was fired and has little loss of income. Smith has been mostly unemployed.
McCarrick also ordered compensation for any losses by reporter Peter Sur and clerk Koryn Nako.
The ruling by McCarrick is still subject to review by the National Labor Relations Board.
Tribune-Herald Publisher Ted Dixon issued a statement saying, "We strongly disagree with the judge's decision and will appeal to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington and to the federal appeals court, if necessary."
Events began on Oct. 18, 2005, when Nako allowed a union representative into the Tribune-Herald building, according to the decision. McCarrick ruled that Nako did not know the company had a policy against that. Such an "overly broad" policy would be a violation of law, McCarrick ruled.
When Bishop offered to serve as a witness for Nako, who was called into a meeting with Bock, Bock refused and fired Bishop several days later for allegedly being "disrespectful of supervisory authority, insubordinate and disruptive," the decision said.
When Smith was called to a meeting with Bock the following March, Smith -- aware that Nako had not been allowed a witness -- carried a tape recorder loaned to him by Sur, according to the decision.
Bock eventually fired Smith after learning about the tape recording and suspended Sur for loaning the recorder, according to the decision.
Besides ordering back pay, McCarrick ordered the company to post a statement listing nine ways in which it will not restrict legal union activity.