Unionized employees at the Honolulu Advertiser held a lunch-hour rally outside the newspaper building yesterday to call attention to the fact that, as of Monday, they have been working without a contract for a year. They also withheld most of their bylines in yesterday’s edition. Gannett, the paper’s owner, is reportedly seeking a wage freeze on top of other concessions, despite reporting $1.16 billion in profits last year a 40 percent increase.
A flyer was distributed at the rally that outlined the major sticking points, including a proposed four-year wage freeze and cuts in vacation, sick leave, health insurance and other benefits. Wayne Cahill, spokesman for the Hawai`i Newspaper Guild, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that Gannett originally wanted an 11-percent pay cut.
“They’ve had good earnings for the last few quarters, yet now they are asking for a wage freeze even though hypothetically the economy is better now,” Advertiser business reporter John Duchemin told the rival Star-Bulletin. “So the only reason to do that is to make a quick buck off someone’s back.”
“Hard to justify pleading poor-mouth in union negotiations at the Gannett Advertiser with that kind of dough padding their pockets,” noted Burl Burlingame in response to the company’s latest financial statement in February.
Burlingame, a local historian and Star-Bulletin staffer, said that yesterday’s rally is the first time in 40 years that Advertiser union members have taken their grievances to the street.
“Gannett’s continued waffling on completing a contract actually drove these souls from their air-conditioned offices to the broiling sidewalks,” he wrote, adding that employees in at least one department couldn’t participate because they were prevented from taking their lunch at noon.
While Advertiser management had no comment on the rally, central to the position on both sides of the negotiating table is Gannett’s $82 million printing facility, currently under construction in Kapolei. The number of employees needed to run the new press, and how many of the newspaper’s current press operators will be laid off, is an unknown.
The Advertiser didn’t cover its own employees’ rally, but the event was reported in the rival Star-Bulletin as well as by local television stations.
It’s been just over two years since the Star-Bulletin ended its Joint Operating Agreement with the Advertiser to compete head-to-head with its former press-mate.