Workers at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald voted Thursday to ratify a new two-year contract that includes modest pay raises but higher health insurance premiums and subcontracting that will likely lead to job losses.
The vote was 26 to 6 with one ballot left blank. Voter turnout was 82.5 percent.
Workers will receive two percent pay raises when the contract is signed and another two percent increase after one year. The raises follow a one percent wage increase in the last two-year contract.
Starting in January, workers will pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums. Workers will cover 10 percent of Kaiser premiums — up from zero — and 20 percent of HMSA premiums — up from 10 percent. The newspaper has made a commitment to implement an IRS Section 125 premium only plan, which will allow premiums to be paid on a pre-tax basis. The tax change should help workers absorb the higher premiums.
The contract grants the Tribune-Herald a limited subcontracting right in the mailroom and ad production and the ability to consider factors other than seniority when deciding potential layoffs in these departments. The newspaper closed its press in Hilo last year and shifted printing to West Hawaii Today, a sister paper in Kona. Subcontracting is part of Stephens Media’s restructuring.
Full-time workers who are laid off will receive one week of pay for every year of service with the newspaper, along with six months of company paid medical under COBRA. Part-time workers who are laid off will receive $2,500 severance payments and six months of company paid medical under COBRA.
The contract preserves meaningful vacation, holiday, sick leave and overtime benefits, along with the principle of seniority outside of the limited subcontracting right.
The contract was reached after a year of negotiations between the guild and the newspaper.
“Our members have once again demonstrated that they are willing to make the difficult choices necessary to keep our newspapers alive,” the guild, which represents more than 2,000 newspaper workers and court interpreters in Hawaii and California, said in a statement.
“We trust management recognizes that long-term survival is not possible without workers who are valued as partners.”