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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 18, 2010

Uncertain future for our staff

By Mark Platte

Five days after The Honolulu Advertiser was honored with the most awards in the local Pa'i contest including top honors in spot news, editorial enterprise, editorial series, editorial opinion, investigative reporting, breaking business news and column writing almost all of its 600 employees received letters notifying them they would be getting jobs with a new, temporary owner, HA Management, Inc.

That would normally be a good thing. But as we have reported previously, if The Advertiser and the Star- Bulletin merge, as is likely, hundreds from both papers will lose their jobs.

Since the Star-Bulletin's owner is taking over, it stands to reason that many of its own editorial employees will fill the jobs that remain. Those Advertiser employees theoretically in the strongest position to keep their jobs are those with the technical skills to work in our multimillion-dollar press operation in Kapolei.

The offer letters received by employees Tuesday lacked a number of details, such as whether workers get a severance package, whether they qualify for unemployment and what happens to health coverage. By Friday afternoon, many of those questions were answered but the lack of job security still had employees on edge.

Having just returned from an out-of-town job interview myself and watching the in-flight movie "Up in the Air" about American workers mechanically being laid off throughout the country, I couldn't help but note the comparable scenarios expected here soon.

Advertiser workers are caught between a company anxious to close a sale and a business through its proxy, HA Management that seeks to hire them temporarily to keep putting out The Advertiser; both papers would continue publishing separately for a short time. But the letters remind Advertiser workers that they are "at-will" employees and can be terminated for taking any action "adverse to the interests" of their new employer.

The management company reserves the right to hire, fire, alter job descriptions and duties, change policies, schedule work hours, determine standards of conduct and control all other aspects of the job. They made that clear in the offer letter, which also decreased the salaries and benefits of many employees but kept most the same.

In the meantime, Advertiser employees have just a couple of days to figure out what to do. Being hired by the management company provides minimal job security but looking for another position in Hawai'i likely means doing something completely different. For longtime writers and photographers, this means leaving a profession they love unless they have the means to move to the Mainland.

It is a great testament to the staff that it continues to put out a quality product under these conditions. The Pa'i Awards provided a brief and welcome respite from the reality that comes next.

Mark Platte is senior vice president and editor of The Advertiser. Reach him at 525-8080. Or follow his Twitter updates at http://twitter.com/markplatte.