2/9/08

News Union threatens paper with strike

More than 600 workers at the Honolulu Advertiser are taking a step closer to a strike in their contract dispute with the newspaper. At their next meeting on Feb. 17, members of the Hawaii Newspaper and Printing Trades Council will vote on whether to give their negotiating committee authority to call a strike against the Gannett Co. Inc. unit.

"I always have hopes that we're going to settle this thing with a reasonable contract," said Wayne Cahill, administrative officer for the Hawaiian Newspaper Guild, one of six unions jointly negotiating with Gannett. "But the company put the final offer on the table, and hasn't made any changes or any move since then."

Gannett's representative, labor attorney John Jaske, presented the final offer for a two-year contract on Jan. 25 with terms the union still disagrees with - an increase in medical premiums and a one-year freeze on wages.

Gannett also threatened to unilaterally implement the proposal, said Cahill, if the union chooses not to accept it within 30 days.

"We think they would be violating federal law if they did, and we would of course take appropriate action," he said.

Lee Webber, president and publisher of the Advertiser, did not return calls for comment by presstime yesterday.

Gannett's offer would require members covered by Kaiser to pay 15 percent of the premium plus the difference between the cost of Kaiser and HMSA. It would also freeze wages from June 2007 to June 2008, offering instead a 1.5 percent bonus. Starting June 2008, Gannett is proposing only a 1 percent pay increase.

The union says this does not keep pace with the more than 5 percent inflation reported in the Advertiser itself.

Also, the union opposes Gannett's proposal changing the payroll from weekly to bi-weekly, which would require a skipped paycheck in order to transition to the new system.

"When our members lose a paycheck, it's disastrous," said Cahill.

Gannett has offered a bridge loan for employees who would need one to tide them over, but it would have to be paid back within a few weeks.

Workers' contracts were originally scheduled to expire last June, but have been extended during negotiations, which started up again in May.

But a flurry of meetings in November and December last year did not result in much progress, having lasted no more than an hour, according to the union.

(starbulletin.com)

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