PMWG files ULP against The Maui News

The Maui News is facing a federal unfair labor practice charge after the Pacific Media Workers Guild (TNG-CWA Local 39521) filed a claim Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board.

PMWG — the union representing newsroom, advertising and circulation workers — filed the claim after publisher Chris Minford and representatives of West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers walked out of a contract bargaining session last week.

Executives — who have proposed having the right to cut hours and therefore coverage, as well as the right to outsource work, including newsroom work, to the mainland — had sought to deny PMWG members from watching the bargaining session, a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

Ogden also faces an unfair labor practice charge for refusing to have all of its bargaining team meet in person for contract talks.

The claims follow expressions of support from the public, in the form of an online petition, for a fair contract.

“I refuse to let these draconian contract proposals stand in the way of us bringing this community the news it needs, on a daily basis,” said sports reporter Robert Collias, who has worked at The Maui News for more than 32 years. “Maui County needs The Maui News, but that can’t happen without a fair, reasonable contract.”

Ogden walked out of last Thursday’s session with no contract proposals exchanged or discussed, instead using the 30 minutes of time the parties were together to argue that additional workers could not observe the session. When the Guild informed the company of the obligation to allow members to observe, the company announced it would not bargain, and ended the talks.

“Guild representatives flew in from the Mainland and Maui News employees took time off from work to bargain in person, only to be treated with disrespect by company representatives,” said reporter Lila Fujimoto, who has worked at The Maui News since 1997. “They didn’t even have the decency to walk back into the room to say they were ending the session, but had their attorney send a text message abruptly canceling the session before any meaningful talks began.”

That move followed months of insistence by Ogden that its mainland representatives would not attend bargaining sessions in person, a position that prompted Guild members to jointly sign a letter to Minford about the disrespect that showed.

Ogden’s drastic proposals would include the right to move any employee to a 30-hour workweek. Award-winning journalists, advertising staff and circulation workers would then have no choice but to provide 20 to 25 percent less work for the community.

Executives’ outsourcing proposal would permit the company to move any work to any other person, creating the potential for Maui News content to come from Ogden papers in locations that include North Dakota, Minnesota, West Virginia and Iowa.

“We have dedicated employees taking on more work because of staff reductions. And now the company would have employees work even fewer hours,” said Wendy Isbell, a Maui News advertising account executive for 33 years. “The company’s present stance is a slap in the face. It shows how disconnected they are regarding life on this island and the price of paradise.”

Maui News workers are not the only ones alarmed by these proposals. An online petition has gathered more than 300 signatures.

“We have been heartened by the support from community members and others who haven’t hesitated when asked to sign the petition,” Fujimoto said. “In fact, many people have volunteered to help spread the word about company proposals that would hurt both employees and the newspaper. The community knows how vital it is to maintain a local newspaper with employees who live here, and understand firsthand the issues all of us face.”

See more local coverage of this contract fight from Hawaii News Now and Honolulu Civil Beat.

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Hunter Paniagua

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