DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Advertiser employees rallied yesterday in support of 54 co-workers who were notified that they will be laid off.
Advertiser workers protest layoffs
STORY SUMMARY »
| READ THE FULL STORY
Honolulu Advertiser workers held signs and rallied on the sidewalk in front of their Kapiolani Boulevard offices yesterday in a show of solidarity.
They demanded that Gannett Co., the owner of the newspaper, give jobs back to 54 fired workers, as well as give all workers a fair contract.
The rally was held just before another round of scheduled union talks.
Ongoing negotiations have dragged on for more than a year with little progress as Gannett seeks to charge higher medical premiums from its employees.
Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, one of the six unions representing Advertiser employees, said the layoffs bring them closer to a strike.
FULL STORY »
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Advertiser union members rallied yesterday in front of the newspaper's Kapiolani Boulevard offices. Union talks for the paper's employees were also held yesterday afternoon.
Dozens of Honolulu Advertiser workers held signs and rallied on the sidewalk in front of their offices on Kapiolani Boulevard at noon yesterday over the unexpected layoffs of 54 employees.
They demanded that Gannett Co., the McLean, Va.-based parent of Hawaii's largest daily newspaper, hire back the 54 workers as well as give all employees a fair contract.
"One, two, three, four, take back the 54!" they chanted.
Supporters honked as they drove by the office's front steps.
Contract talks were set to resume again yesterday afternoon following the rally.
Rallying workers questioned whether the layoffs were intended to drive fear into employees during ongoing contract talks or were needed to tighten operating costs.
"All this time, they've been telling us they're making money, but now they need to economize," said Lucy Witeck, who has worked 27 years in the Advertiser's classifieds department. "Yet they're not going to prove it to us and show us the books. People love this company. They've put in a lot of time here, and they've helped build this company."
Advertiser President and Publisher Lee Webber notified employees via e-mail Wednesday that 54 positions would be cut, citing the economic downturn. He was not available for comment yesterday afternoon.
Positions were cut in departments including dispatch, editorial, classifieds and advertising. Editorial cartoonist Dick Adair, who has been with the paper since 1981, was also fired.
The timing of the layoffs falls a day after ongoing contract talks with the unions, which have stretched on for more than a year without much progress.
Gannett wants to reduce pay raises to 1 percent effective in October and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus, while charging employees higher medical premiums.
Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, one of the six unions, characterized the talks that day as amicable, but said: "They didn't breathe a word."
Cahill said the company is supposed to tell the union about layoffs first, and that it has some serious concerns about violations of the contract.
The company was really "loose" in terms of how it applied seniority, according to Cahill, when the guild's contract specificies that layoffs are to begin with the lowest-seniority employees.
At least one fired employee had 40 years of service, said the union, while another had worked for the Advertiser for 38 years.
Advertiser photographer Joaquin Siopack received the news on his cell phone on his day off.
Siopack, an award-winning photographer, said he had been with the paper three years, and with Gannett off and on for six years.
Ian Rutka, who worked for five years in the Advertiser classifieds department, said he was informed verbally by his boss of his layoff, but never received written notice as required by state labor law.
To date, according to Cahill, the Advertiser has refused to show its books to the Guild.
"If you're having financial problems, prove it to us," said Cahill. "They need to own up to just exactly what the situation is here. We're not going to have our people pay to give them more profits."
In proxy materials filed in March, it was revealed that Craig Dubow, chairman, president and CEO of Gannett, received a $1.75 million bonus in 2007.
Cahill said yesterday afternoon's meeting with the paper did not result in any progress. He is still waiting for an updated list of the 54 individuals laid off, given that there have been so many changes.
He called the meeting a disappointment.
"This is a great community," said Cahill. "People can tell when things aren't right, and this one smells a little."
Earlier this year, the membership approved a strike by a 358-17 vote, but a 30-day strike notice must be issued by the union before any walkout can commence.
Meanwhile, employees at the Advertiser have held video clip and blog strikes, and are wearing black on Fridays to show their solidarity.
When asked if the union would consider striking, Cahill said: "This has probably moved us closer to a strike."