Unions rally employees
By John Windrow
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hundreds of employees of Honolulu's two daily newspapers gathered at Washington Middle School yesterday to sort out their options in the face of the proposed purchase of The Advertiser by the rival Star-Bulletin's owner.
Workers from six unions at the two-hour meeting heard their leaders exhort them to press hard for a contract by the time the deal is consummated, and to take a strong stand to preserve their jobs.
"Our major goal so far is to save as many jobs as possible," said Wayne Cahill, spokesman for the six-union Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council, and administrative officer of the Hawai'i Newspaper Guild, which represents some employees of both The Advertiser and Star-Bulletin. "Our ultimate goal is that no one loses their job."
Cahill said the Communications Workers of America, parent union of The Newspaper Guild, has hired the Washington law firm of Baker and Miller to look into the transaction, especially in light of last week's report that Gannett Co. Inc. — which owns The Advertiser — is helping Star-Bulletin owner David Black finance the purchase.
Baker and Miller specializes in antitrust cases and represented the Hawai'i newspaper unions 10 years ago when Gannett unsuccessfully attempted to shut down the Star-Bulletin without offering it for sale. Black emerged as the eventual buyer of the Star-Bulletin.
"It certainly raises questions about how this deal came together and who is orchestrating which aspects of it," Cahill said.
Advertiser Publisher Lee Webber said yesterday he did not know details of the origins of the transaction and could not comment.
At Washington Middle School yesterday, union members were given information about food stamps, unemployment benefits, credit counseling and job searches.
Roy Kruse, the Hawai'i Newspaper Guild's administrative officer from 1969 to 1996, told the crowd: "You have no other alternative than to fight for your jobs, your contract, your union and your families."
Dennis Francis, the Star-Bulletin's publisher, told Cahill that any full- or part-time Advertiser employees who decline employment at a consolidated newspaper or who are not offered jobs would get severance pay, Cahill said.
Vested Advertiser employees over the age of 55 would be able to draw their pensions.
David Black, owner of Oahu Publications Inc., announced Feb. 25 that he was acquiring The Advertiser, its Web site, its non-daily publications and its $82 million printing plant in Kapolei. Black said he would offer the Star-Bulletin for sale and, if no taker were found, consolidate the two dailies in a move that will lead to layoffs.
Under terms of the proposed sale, Black would not acquire the Advertiser building at 605 Kapi'olani Blvd. He would retain the Midweek publication.
If Oahu Publications does not find a buyer for the Star-Bulletin, its merger with The Advertiser will likely wrap up this summer in a process that could result in layoffs of union and nonunion workers at the papers and a name change for The Advertiser that reflects the consolidation.
The Advertiser reported last week that Gannett — which publishes 83 daily U.S. newspapers, including USA Today — is providing more than $40 million to help Oahu Publications purchase The Advertiser.
Gannett has said that it has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders, and the sale to Black is the best option under the circumstances. Newspapers all over the United States have been losing circulation, laying off employees or shutting down in the face of decreased readership, a loss of advertising revenue and the revolution in digital communication, which has seen millions of readers getting their news and information from sources other than newspapers.
Primo Kala, a pressman who has worked at The Advertiser for 18 years and has a family to support, said yesterday: "We're just trying to figure out what's going on. It's changing all the time. They're selling the paper, they're not selling the paper. We just want to know — do we still have a job?"