Newspaper owner agrees to mediation
The owner of the Honolulu Advertiser agreed yesterday to enter mediation with the union representing its more than 600 employees.
Lee Webber, Advertiser president and publisher, told workers in a May 21 letter that mediation is a "reasonable next step" and that the company has offered "a fair benefit and wage package."
"We already pay among the highest wages and benefits by job category of almost any Hawaii employer and will continue to do so," he said. "But we also have a responsibility to protect the long-term health of the newspaper in light of the uncertainties of our state and national economies - particularly the challenges faced by the newspaper industry."
Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council, which represents six unions jointly negotiating with Gannett Co. Inc., said the company had previously rejected proposals for mediation since January and is not losing money, though its latest offer includes a three-year freeze on wages and requires workers to pay twice as much for their medical premiums.
"The latest plan is worse than the company's final 'take-it-or-leave' proposal that employees overwhelmingly rejected in January," said Wayne Cahill, spokesman for the unions. "The core issues are the same and the company's response has been to give a new proposal each time that provides less money and fewer benefits."
The company is engaging in regressive bargaining, which is illegal under federal labor law, Cahill said.
Gannett previously proposed that employees pay 15 percent of their health-care premiums under a two-year contract that would allow for two 1 percent pay increases and another 1.5 percent bonus, according to the union.
The latest Gannett proposal issued on Monday calls for a three-year contract with three 1 percent bonuses, no wage increases and requires that workers continue to pay 10 percent of their medical premiums this year, 15 percent in 2009 and 20 percent in 2010, the union said.
The parties are working with Ken Kawamoto of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Dates for further negotiations haven't yet been set.
Advertiser staff have ceased producing video for the Web and are not writing as many blogs during the impasse, Cahill said.
"Obviously we want to do everything we can do to get a settlement without a strike," Cahill said. "We're just as much in danger of a strike now as we were before mediation."
Advertiser employees, who have been working under contract extensions since June 9, overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike in February.