The Honolulu-based publishing company, which also owns MidWeek and a number of other Hawaii publications, has not announced publicly whose positions will be eliminated.
But Dennis Francis, the company’s president and publisher, told Civil Beat that the job cuts, effective Oct. 17, will affect all six categories of employees — reporters, copy editors, photographers, artists/graphics, online production and clerks — who are represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild.
According to Sjarif Goldstein, a sports editor who serves as the union’s unit chair, five reporters and six copy editors are among those losing their jobs. The other four categories will each see one position eliminated.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, those with the least seniority in the newsroom will be affected first, but Goldstein said the agreement also allows “volunteers” with more seniority to take their place.
The volunteers, in turn, could take advantage of the terms of severance packages guaranteed under the agreement — one week’s wages for each year of employment up to 40 years — and still apply for unemployment benefits.
“I think a meeting with the entire newsroom would have been a good idea. There’s an unseemly air of secrecy that there didn’t have to be.” — Sjarif Goldstein, union representative
The option will be similar to taking the company’s “voluntary separation incentive program” — which was offered, and then rescinded, twice in seven weeks — except that three months of health care benefits won’t be included. Still, those taking the buyout wouldn’t have qualified for unemployment benefits.
“It’s too early to know how this will go, but a few people have indicated interest” in volunteering, Goldstein said.
The downsizing of the Star-Advertiser’s newsroom is part of a companywide cost-cutting initiative by Oahu Publications, which has about 565 employees.
In early August, the company laid off eight nonunion employees — including Midweek editor Don Chapman — in addition to leaving 20 vacant positions unfilled this year.
“It’s unfortunate that the big-box national retailers continue to see downturns in business. Although Honolulu bucks that trend with recent new stores by Target and Macy’s, we are being swept up by a national decision in advertising where results haven’t been as strong as evidenced by the new stores being built in Honolulu,” Francis said. “Local retail continues to remain very strong and in fact be a market leader. It’s always unfortunate when there’s a reduction in jobs, but to remain vibrant in the future it’s a necessary adjustment.”
Goldstein said he learned about the job cuts Monday afternoon through an email that he and union leaders on the mainland received from the company’s management.
Newsroom managers notified the affected employees individually, Goldstein said, but it was up to him to inform the rest of the newsroom.
Francis said the company didn’t hold a newsroom meeting to discuss the job cuts out of the belief that “all communication must be routed through union leadership.”
“It is up to the union to communicate directly with their members,” Francis said.
But Goldstein said nothing prevented the company’s management “from talking through the union leadership.”
“I think a meeting with the entire newsroom would have been a good idea,” Goldstein said. “There’s an unseemly air of secrecy that there didn’t have to be.”
Now that the job cuts have been announced, Goldstein said he’s worried that the quality of the newspaper will decline.
“We’re losing 15 quality journalists, all of whom make strong contributions to the content and presentation of our product,” Goldstein said. “For anyone to think we could lose more than 10 percent of our staff and not have a drop-off in quality is foolhardy.”
Francis said he’s optimistic that the company will be able to keep producing a strong newspaper.
“The newsroom leadership will do their best to ensure the quality of the paper will not slip, as well as the remaining 90 percent of staffers,” Francis said. “I’m confident the quality of the paper overall will not change.”