Newspaper employees sick of imposed sick leave changes

Employees of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald are sick of the treatment they’ve received from the newspaper’s owner, the Oahu Publishing Incorporated (OPI).

For more than a year, the two sides have been negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, but  the company has begun implementing new policies without negotiating with the workers’ union, the Pacific Media Workers Guild CWA Local 39521.

The last straw came when the company started punishing employees for being sick by deducting vacation days when they used their sick leave.

Additionally, the company began requiring employees to bring a doctor’s note when returning to work from being sick.

“Employees should be encouraged to take care of their health rather than be penalized,” said Tom Callis, the local’s vice president for Hawaii. “These policies do not create a healthy and productive workplace.”

The union responded to the company’s new sick leave rules by filing an unfair labor practices complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

“To implement these new sick leave rules without negotiating with employees or telling them is a clear violation of labor law,” reads a statement issued by the union.

“The assumption by the company that its employees need to be managed in this fashion is both misguided and insulting,” said Brad Sherman, a member of the union’s bargaining team. “The stance that the newspaper’s employees are somehow deceitful is frankly absurd. These are the same employees whose hard work and dedication had created a business that was profitable–in an industry that is facing struggles–at the OPI made the purchase.”

The union and the company have been bargaining for a new contract for more than a year now.

The old collective bargaining agreement was terminated when OPI purchased the Tribune-Herald, which operates out of Hilo, Hawaii, in December 2014.

Collective bargaining on a new agreement began in 2015, and while some issues have been resolved the two sides are still far apart on others.

In the meantime, OPI has laid off half the Herald-Tribune employees and begun implementing policies without regard for the collective bargaining process.

OPI is owned by Black Press Limited Group, a private company owned by David Black, who the  Vancouver Sun describes as a Canadian “media mogul.”

Black Press, the largest privately owned newspaper company in Canada, owns a string of community newspapers throughout North America and daily newspapers in Akron, Ohio and Everett, Washington. It also owns the Honolulu Star Advertiser and the San Francisco Examiner.

Black has recently branched out of the publishing business and is seeking permission to build what he describes as an environmentally clean oil refinery in Kitmat, British Columbia.

The Vancouver Sun portrays Black as a shrewd (some might say ruthless) businessman adept at squeezing maximum profits from the newspapers he owns.

“His model for newspaper ownership — buy cheap or distressed properties, ruthlessly cut unnecessary staff, make budgets squeak and consolidate common services such as printing, accounting and human resources in regional centers–has wholly rewritten the newspaper industry in British Columbia and Washington,” reported the Sun in 2012.

Employees of the Tribune-Herald have not been impressed with the Black model for running a newspaper.

After OPI bought the Tribune Herald, he laid off 19 workers at a profitable business, outsourced much of the work at the newspaper, implemented a regressive sick leave policy, and eliminated the job security workers enjoyed under the previous collective bargaining agree.

In addition, OPI has proposed subjecting workers to drug tests without cause, which many employees think is an invasion of their privacy.

To protest the new drug testing policy, workers began displaying specimen cups in the workplace with the message, “My Urine, My Business.”

On the union’s Facebook page, one union member posted a picture of a specimen cup with a more detailed message, “What OPI’s sick leave and drug testing policies mean to me . . . That we at HTH are not trusted to act like adults and do our job (without being treated like children).”

Amid all this, the union has continued to fight for a fair collective bargaining agreement by mobilizing workers and supporters in the community.

Union members are wearing “I love fair contracts” buttons at work and urging supporters to show their solidarity by posting pictures of themselves wearing the button on the union’s Facebook page.

Tribune-Herald workers recently received a strong message of support from fellow union members at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, where collective bargaining on a new contract with OPI is about to get underway.

“We stand with our brothers and sisters on the Big Island,” said Sjarif Goldstein, Star-Advertiser assistant sports editor and Honolulu unit chair of the union. “The Honolulu newsroom understands what’s at stake for media workers in Hawaii as ownership consolidation continues.”