Union council meets today Bulletin owner buys Advertiser
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
The announcement yesterday that The Honolulu Advertiser will be sold to the owner of competitor The Honolulu Star-Bulletin caught most people by surprise, including the unions that represent employees at both newspapers.
Wayne Cahill, spokes-man for the Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council and administrative officer of the Hawaii Newspaper Guild, said there had been no indication that a sale was in the works. Cahill said the council, which represents unionized workers at both newspapers, will meet today to discuss the sale and its impact on employees, many of whom will likely face layoffs.
Gannett Co. yesterday said it had reached an agreement to sell The Advertiser to Oahu Publications Inc., owner of the Star-Bulletin and the direct-mail Midweek tabloid. The sale also includes related assets, such as The Advertiser's Web site, its nondaily publications and Gannett's interest in Hawaii.com.
The deal is subject to regulatory approvals, but is expected to close in the second quarter of this year, according to Gannett.
In the meantime, David Black, chairman of OPI, will attempt to sell the Star-Bulletin. If no buyer is found, the two newspapers would be combined into one operation, with layoffs likely.
All Advertiser employees will be retained on the day the sale becomes effective, but there is confusion as to how many workers from both publications will be kept if the dailies are consolidated.
Evan Ray, Gannett senior vice president of finance, told The Advertiser Staff that it will be up to OPI to determine how many employees will be needed to run the combined newspaper and he could not say if the consolidation would result in layoffs.
But in an information sheet given to Star-Bulletin employees, OPI said layoffs will occur.
"Once OPI is able to put together a consolidation plan after accessing operational and personnel information from Gannett, OPI will be in a better position to determine its future staffing needs," the statement said. "Unfortunately, there will be layoffs."
The Advertiser has 410 full-time and 290 part-time employees, including 120 in the newsroom. The Star-Bulletin has about 70 in its newsroom.
UNIONS START OVER
Cahill said employee contracts will be void on the day of the sale. Although employees will still be represented by unions, he said they will have to negotiate new deals with Black.
"The only reason they do an asset sale is to get out of existing agreements," Cahill said. "There's no other reason to do it."
In February 2009, the six labor groups representing 525 union employees at The Advertiser ratified a two-year contract that called for workers to take a 10 percent pay cut as the newspaper attempted to overcome the downturn in the economy. That same month, the Star-Bulletin announced a wage freeze and layoffs that resulted in more than 20 job losses.
Cahill would not speculate on what may come out of today's meeting of the Trades Council.
"I think it's really premature. I'm going to try and get as much information as I can," he said.
He said he's hopeful a buyer will be found for the Star-Bulletin and that both newspapers can continue to operate separately.
In 1999, when Star-Bulletin owner Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership announced it was shutting down the newspaper, many doubted that a buyer could be found.
Black acquired the Star-Bulletin and launched the new publication in March 2001.
Cahill said he hopes to meet with the Canadian publisher soon.
"At the time Gannett purchased The Advertiser, they wanted to get rid of the Star-Bulletin then, so I don't know what Black is going to want to do, whether he truly wants to sell (the Star-Bulletin) and find somebody to run it or if he wants to kill it," Cahill said.