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Oahu Publications, the publisher of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and a number of other Hawaii publications, trimmed its staff this week, letting go of eight nonunion employees who worked for several of the company’s titles, including MidWeek.
Dennis Francis, the company’s president and publisher, told Civil Beat that job cuts are also likely at the Star-Advertiser, its flagship newspaper, whose editorial employees are represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild.
Francis said the company offered buyouts Monday to union members in the newsroom, which has about 110 editorial employees.
But it’s still unclear how many positions will be eliminated.
“We don’t really have a number in mind,” Francis said. “We’d have to see how many people would accept (the buyout) first.”
Still, Francis said the number of the job cuts will fall well short of 50 — a number that under the state’s unemployment insurance rules qualifies as a “mass layoff” and would require the company to notify the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations in advance.
“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that it’s nowhere near that,” Francis said. “That would be half of our newsroom. That would be nuts.”
Francis said union members will have 30 to 45 days to consider the offer.
Brad Sherman, president of Hawaii Unity Council, part of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, said the union is seeking more details on what Oahu Publications intends to do.
“It looks like a reduction in staff is likely in some form,” Sherman said. “But how much and what format, the dates, what would be required of those who get laid off — many, many things are still unanswered.”
Sherman said the union’s next move will depend on the answer it gets. “There’s an array of options after that,” he said.
But, under the collective bargaining agreement, the union is prohibited from going on strike, as well as “sitdown, refusal to work, stoppage of work, slowdown, retardation of production or picketing of the employer.”
If any positions were to be eliminated, Sherman said those with the least seniority in the newsroom would be affected first.
“It’s just an ‘Amazon effect’ of general declines in advertising from some of our national retailers.” — Dennis Francis, president and publisher of Oahu Publications
“The bedrock principle of most unions is to have the seniority be, if not the sole guide, the primary guide,” Sherman said. “But there are occasional times when the union grants exceptions for one reason or another.”
The collective bargaining agreement guarantees severance payment worth at least five weeks’ pay — or one week’s pay for each year of employment up to 40 weeks.
Francis said the company’s job cuts are due to declining advertising revenues from major national retailers, which have significantly scaled back their print marketing budgets in recent years.
Macy’s, for instance, slashed its newspaper advertising by about 50 percent across the country — including in Honolulu, even though the company is doing better here than in most places, Francis said.
And the bankruptcies of traditionally reliable retailers like Sports Authority and RadioShack have also affected the bottom line.
“It’s just an ‘Amazon effect’ of general declines in advertising from some of our national retailers,” Francis said.
Oahu Publications is owned by Black Press, a Canadian company. Besides MidWeek and the Star-Advertiser, it owns The Garden Island on Kauai, Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today on the Big Island, as well as a number of small magazines.