There were about half a dozen of them, standing on Mahalani Street in Kahului just outside
The Maui News
headquarters. They carried signs saying things like “Stop the Stall” and “2 Years Too Long.” They stood there, occasionally waving to honking cars, for just an hour on July 13, 2005—first between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and then again from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.
Not so grandiose as a strike or even a work slow-down, the half dozen people on Mahalani were workers from
The Maui Bulletin
, a free weekly shopper published by the same parent corporation as
The Maui News
. They were holding what labor organizers call an “informational picket”—a brief, poorly attended gathering calling attention to the fact that
workers are tired of having spent the last two years negotiating a new contract.
“We think it’s time to make the county know about this little family affair,” said Wayne E. Cahill, administrative officer for The Newspaper Guild’s Local 39117, who’s acting as representative for the
workers. “We tried to put an ad in the
to tell our story and [
publisher and general manager] Joe Bradley turned it down. Reportedly he turned 45 different shades of red.”
Bradley had little comment on the matter. “We’re going to continue to meet with them,” he said. “The last proposal we made was last Tuesday. It was proposal Number 73. We’ll continue to bargain with them.”
Though only six staffers were on hand for the informational picket, Cahill said the entire seven-strong
staff of sales representatives, production people and clerical workers are in it together. Their complaints are typical of those facing a big corporation: “substandard pay and benefits,” “abusive management practices,” working up to 10 hours a day without overtime and so forth.
“Sales managers take the plum accounts and leave the drippings [to
workers],” said Cahill. “The workers have been handed a list of rights worse than if there was no union. They’ve seen how
The Maui News
[employees] are treated, they say how they [in contrast] have been treated and they said something has to change.”
Hawai’i Publications, a wholly owned subsidiary of Wheeling, West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers, which runs 39 dailies, a bunch of weeklies and shoppers in 11 states, owns
The Maui News
, as well as the
Today G. Ogden Nutting, a longtime Republican Party contributor and part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, runs the chain. But the irony is that H. C. Ogden, who founded what became Ogden Newspapers way back in 1890, was a progressive. Ogden’s
in West Virginia pushed for the Workman’s Compensation Act, agitated for a state health department, backed a state child labor law and called for mine safety inspections.
Then again, newspapers and labor have always formed an odd bond. Usually pro-labor in matters of editorial direction, they can be rough places to work with long hours and poor pay. Many papers—including the one you’re holding right now—rely on unpaid interns, usually kids doing research and other odd jobs in exchange for college credit and experience. A couple years ago I attended an investigative news seminar in which one of the instructors—a veteran reporter at a Northern California daily—told us in the same breath that she was her paper’s union rep and it was often necessary for journalists to work unpaid weekends to finish stories.
Compared with some media corporations, Ogden is unabashedly pro-labor. After all, they’re actually negotiating with the
workers’ union representative—a relatively minor concession some media giants refuse to do.
Take the 104-paper chain MediaNews Group, for instance. Based in Denver, Colorado and run by notorious newspaper boss William Dean Singleton, the chain bought the then century-old
Long Beach Press-Telegram
in 1997. Immediately after the sale, Singleton reportedly threw out all union contracts, forced all 500 employees to re-interview for their jobs, slashed pay and benefits for those he retained. Armed security guards escorted the rest from the building.
The paper that emerged from the bloodletting was a shadow of its former self. Its stories are little more than rewritten press releases and it’s staffed with kids itching to collect enough clips to get a job at a “real” paper.
In any case, neither Bradley nor Cahil wished to talk about the possibility that the two-year long negotiations would break down and the
workers would strike.
“I don’t have any comment on that,” said Bradley.
As for Cahill, he said that the workers would be very happy with a settlement.
“We haven’t been talking about a strike,” he said. “Even if there’s a strike, you still have to get to a settlement.”