Dennis Francis, the company’s president and publisher, told Civil Beat that he has yet to decide how many positions to eliminate, but his decision will be made by “no later than the end of the month.”
Oahu Publications, the publisher of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, is set to trim the newspaper’s staff by the end of the month — though it’s still unclear how many job cuts will be made.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The company’s initial plan, announced Aug. 1, was to trim the newspaper’s staff through a combination of buyouts and, if necessary, involuntary job cuts.
But Francis said the trimming will now be made solely through involuntary job cuts.
That’s after the company offered a “voluntary separation incentive program” twice — only to rescind it both times.
The company’s first buyout offer was pulled in late August — a day before the deadline to take the deal — after the Pacific Media Workers Guild, which represents the Star-Advertiser’s editorial employees, complained about “the way the buyout was being handled.”
From Francis’ perspective, the complaint amounted to an effort by the union to sweeten the deal by making “a long list of demands,” so he decided to rescind the offer.
But, last week, Francis sat down with Sjarif Goldstein, a sports editor who serves as the union’s unit chair, to smooth out the differences.
“I normally stay completely out of (union negotiations), other than giving guidance to my negotiating team,” Francis said. “To me, (meeting with Goldstein) was a gesture on my part to show that I was serious about getting this done.”
The two emerged from the meeting with a new buyout offer — with a concession from Francis that copies of its terms could be made available to attorneys for union members.
But Francis refused to budge on the union’s main concerns: the clauses that govern “confidentiality” and “no disparagement,” as well as the fact that unemployment benefits aren’t guaranteed to those who take the buyout.
Still, Goldstein took the deal, agreeing that he’d “present the agreement as-is to our members to make their own decisions … based on what was best for them individually.”
Within two days, the deal was again off the table.
Francis said he rescinded the offer after the union’s national representative sent him a letter that he said reiterated the demand to remove the confidentiality and nondisparagement clauses.
“I was completely dumbfounded,” Francis said.
To Francis, the buyout offer was essentially “a pile of money for two or three people — basically a year’s pay.”
“I would hope that the union representatives have checked with those people if they really had any problems with the languages in the” buyout offer, Francis said.
Sjarif Goldstein, a sports editor at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser serving as the unit chair for the union for newsroom employees, says a misunderstanding caused Oahu Publications to pull the buyout offer.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
But Goldstein said there appears to be “a bit of a misunderstanding.”
What Francis interpreted as the union’s demand, Goldstein said, was simply an effort to acknowledge “our understanding of the company’s position, while also affirming that we maintained the rights granted our members under the law” — including the ability to file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
In the end, that’s a moot point: Francis said he had “100 percent certainty” that no third offer will be forthcoming.
As far as Francis is concerned, what’s left to do now is to decide how many of the newspaper’s 110 editorial employees should be let go.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, those with the least seniority in the newsroom would be affected first. But the newsroom has six categories of employees — reporters, copy editors, photographers, artists/graphics, online production and clerks — and each has its own seniority list.
It’s unclear if any category of employees will be spared from the job cuts — something that’s ultimately up to Francis to decide.
“I’ll be working with newsroom editors to figure that out in the coming days,” Francis said.
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