Following layoffs within the past year that wiped out roughly a quarter of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s newsroom staff, employees rallied outside the newspaper’s office Thursday.
The Honolulu-based publishing company Oahu Publications, which operates several newspapers and magazines throughout the islands, is a subsidiary of Canada-based Black Press, owned by David Black.
Pacific Media Workers Guild Hawaii, the union that represents Star-Advertiser employees, is frustrated that layoffs have continued in the midst of the collective bargaining process. The paper’s current contract expired in August 2016, but has remained in place during negotiations.
Employees are prohibited from going on strike or protesting cutbacks, according to that contract. Thursday’s rally lasted just more than a half-hour — short enough to still be considered a work break.
Last month, Oahu Publications announced the layoffs of 10 editorial employees at its flagship paper. Last September, Oahu Publications had announced its intent to cut 15 jobs.
A handful of non-union members were also laid off, totaling more than 30 people overall, said Marcel Honoré, a Star-Advertiser reporter. He called the collective bargaining negotiations “difficult” and “draconian.”
Dennis Francis, the company’s president and publisher, did not return a call requesting comment.
Employees are supposed to be let go based on seniority, according to their contract, but union Vice President Brad Sherman said there’s a dispute as to whether or not the first round of cuts were made based on seniority.
The collective bargaining agreement allows employees with more seniority to voluntarily leave in place of those facing layoffs. Such volunteers are entitled to one week’s wages for every year of employment up to 40 years. They can also apply for unemployment benefits.
In both rounds of cuts, Sherman said some employees volunteered to leave in place of those who were facing layoffs.
Research conducted by the union has indicated that some of Black Press’s assets have financial issues, Sherman said. There’s some concern that Black may be redirecting money from Honolulu subscribers.
The union is frustrated that it hasn’t seen any figures regarding the paper’s profitability or the number of positions it intends to cut during collective bargaining, Sherman said. It also opposes random drug tests — as opposed to tests taken if it’s suspected someone is under the influence — that Oahu Publications has proposed, he said.
While other newspapers across the country have reduced newsroom staffs to become more profitable, Sherman said it’s not a reasonable approach.
“There’s a cost to the company that comes with losing these people,” Sherman said. “It doesn’t work — you can’t have a lesser product and expect the same loyalty from customers.”
Star-Advertiser reporter Rob Perez said at Thursday’s rally that employees are making less money than they did 10 years ago, adjusting for inflation.
There has been no indication whether or not more cuts are planned.
“We have to make choices around what we can no longer cover,” Perez said. “It just means that there’s fewer eyes watching over our institutions, and that is not a good thing for a healthy democracy.”
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