FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 15, 2020
Three former governors of the state of Hawaii have joined forces to urge the Honolulu Star-Advertiser not to go through with sweeping layoffs it has announced that would cripple the newspaper and ultimately hurt the community that depends upon it.
Former Governors John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie sent a letter Monday to David Black of Black Press Ltd., owner of the Star-Advertiser, and publisher Dennis Francis.
“As former governors, we know how much democracy depends on a free press,” the three leaders wrote. “The Honolulu Star-Advertiser provides the most comprehensive coverage of our state… So we were dismayed to hear that the newspaper’s management sent layoff notices to roughly half of the newsroom staff represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Such a drastic reduction could doom the newspaper.”
Last week, 31 journalists were abruptly notified they were being laid off as of June 29. They include seasoned photographers, graphic artists, page designers and experienced reporters covering health care, homelessness and investigative projects, plus popular columnists. Since March, newsroom staff have been furloughed one day a week and eight were placed on indefinite furlough.
“Star-Advertiser journalists are ready to do their part to keep the newspaper solvent,” the governors wrote. “Their hours have already been cut 20%. They have offered to take extensive furloughs, which are far less damaging and disruptive than layoffs and still meet the need for cost savings. Please support them so that Honolulu’s only daily newspaper can weather this economic crisis and come back strong. We cannot afford to lose it.”
For months, employees in the Pacific Media Workers Guild have been asking Star-Advertiser management to agree to a rotating furlough program that would share the sacrifice among all staff, preserve jobs and minimize the impact to workers, families and news coverage. The guild will continue to seek an agreement that recognizes the economic impact of COVID-19 and maintains the news coverage our community deserves.
Govs. Abercrombie and Waihee are available for interviews.
Individual statement by Gov. John Waihee:
“I think that transparency in government is important for Hawaii and for everybody,” Waihee said. “And how can we have transparency if we don’t have active news media? This is just another symptom of a terrible slide toward less democracy.”
Individual statement from Gov. Neil Abercrombie:
“Public officials like myself take an oath to the Constitution, and the hallmark of a free people is a free press,” Abercrombie said. “The way I look at it is that if you’re the owner of a newspaper, you have taken an oath to the First Amendment and you have a responsibility to the community.”
“The reporters, the journalists, the staff at the Star-Advertiser are trying to live up to their oath to the First Amendment. Their employers have the same kind of obligation.”
“We are so used to having the newspaper in our lives, we sometimes take it for granted,” Abercrombie added. “I hope Mr. Black and his associates will take another look and see if we can’t work something out together to keep the Star-Advertiser in existence.”
BACKGROUND AND TIMELINE
- On seven different occasions, starting on March 18, workers at the Star-Advertiser requested, in writing, legally mandated bargaining about furloughs and hours reductions.
- The company refused repeatedly, forcing the use of contract grievances, until finally agreeing on May 7.
- On two different occasions, the company called off or failed to attend scheduled meetings.
- After bargaining sessions that yielded productive talks that appeared to be moving toward an agreement, OPI canceled a June 3 meeting that could have meant a finished agreement. Just over a week later, with no warning, it emailed layoff notices to 31 people.
- Susan Essoyan, volunteer unit co-chair for the guild and Star-Advertiser reporter
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