A union representing workers at the The Maui News has filed an unfair labor practices claim against the publisher and the West Virginia company that owns the paper.

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The Pacific Media Workers Guild issued a news release Thursday saying its claim with the National Labor Relations Board followed publisher Chris Minford and representatives of Ogden Newspapers walking out of a contract bargaining session last week. The guild says Ogden executives tried to bar guild members from watching the bargaining session, violating their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

Minford said Friday that he was not aware of any unfair labor practice filing.

“Frankly, we are disappointed that the Union would send a press release before even discussing the issue with the Company,” Minford said by email.

“We value and respect our relationship with the many employees who work so hard to produce The Maui News and are saddened that the Union would focus on a PR stunt, rather than address substantive issues directly with us,” he said.

The Pacific Media Workers Guild represents employees at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, The Maui News and media workers in California. In addition to The Maui News, Ogden also owns Lahaina News on Maui, according to its website.

In addition to the claim about not letting union members watch the contract talks, Ogden also faces an unfair labor practices charge for allegedly refusing to have every member of its bargaining team meet in person for the negotiations, the guild says.

Employees from The Maui News are fighting for a better contract. Courtesy: Wendy Isbell/2022

An online petition in support of employees of The Maui News had received 368 signatures as of Thursday afternoon. The petition says the newspaper’s staff has been slashed by two-thirds in recent years and now Ogden and its attorneys are seeking to cut employee hours to 30 per week, “a move that would dramatically reduce coverage and cut employee pay by 20 to 25%.”

Each employee deserves good faith negotiating by the company and a fair contract, and Maui County deserves strong local journalism, the petition reads.

Ogden representatives walked out of last Thursday’s session with no contract proposals exchanged or discussed, instead using the 30 minutes of time the parties were together to argue that additional workers could not observe the session, according to the guild’s press release. When the union informed the company of the obligation to allow members to observe, the company broke off the talks.

“Guild representatives flew in from the Mainland and Maui News employees took time off from work to bargain in person, only to be treated with disrespect by company representatives,” said reporter Lila Fujimoto, who has worked at The Maui News since 1997, in the release. “They didn’t even have the decency to walk back into the room to say they were ending the session, but had their attorney send a text message abruptly canceling the session before any meaningful talks began.”

The publisher had a different take on what happened last week.

“What we objected to at the last negotiation meeting was having union members observe the negotiations while they were on duty, working. That was the case at the start of the meeting, and we objected to it,” Minford said.

The breakdown in contract negotiations followed months of insistence by Ogden that its mainland representatives would not attend bargaining sessions in person, a position that prompted union members to jointly sign a letter to Minford about what they considered disrespectful behavior.

Besides wanting the right to move any employee to a 30-hour workweek, Ogden management wants to be able to shift job responsibilities around and outsource work, allowing Maui news to be covered by writers based in North Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia and Iowa, the union says.

Wendy Isbell, a Maui News advertising account executive who has served 33 years at the paper, said in the release that employees are already taking on more work because of staff reductions.

“The company’s present stance is a slap in the face. It shows how disconnected they are regarding life on this island and the price of paradise,” she said.

Maui News sports reporter Robert Collias said in the release that Maui County needs the daily newspaper, but “that can’t happen without a fair, reasonable contract.” He has worked at paper for more than 32 years.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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