Picket at Maui’s 122-year-old newspaper aims to protect local news coverage
December 14, 2022, 8:56 AM HST
* Updated December 14, 2:14 PM
Dozens of people, including supporters, subscribers, and employees of The Maui News showed up for an informational picket Tuesday, in support of “securing a fair contract that protects local news coverage.”
Union employees of the 122-year-old paper say the picket is in opposition to outsourcing proposals by West Virgina-based owners, Ogden Newspapers, as well as additional proposals to reduce hours, and therefore pay by 20% to 25%. The latest move involves an effort to block publication of Letters to the Editor on the matter that are submitted in support of employees.
“We feel that’s unfair, and we feel that’s wrong,” said sports reporter Robert Collias, a 32-year employee of The Maui News. “We’re here to give as much Maui news as we can, and we feel that’s part of it–allowing people the opportunity to express their opinions, their support. The company has said no more letters in support of the workers. I think that shows a lot of where the company is coming from. They’re afraid.”
Maui Now reached out to Ogden owners via email and phone on Monday for comment on the status of negotiations, but did not get a response.
The paper’s Publisher and Circulation Manager, Chris Minford, responded to an email request for comment saying he has made the decision to not publicly comment on private contract negotiations, and to do all of the bargaining at the bargaining table.
He said that he is genuinely working hard to reach an agreement that is acceptable to all parties, and remains hopeful that the Pacific Media Workers Guild is working towards that same goal.
Employees, meanwhile, were vocal about their stance, holding signs that read “Keep Maui In The Maui News,” referencing their opposition to outsourcing.
Longtime photographer for The Maui News, Matthew Thayer said he was participating in the picket to let the public know about what he described as “very difficult contract negotiations” union members are having with the paper’s owners.
Negotiations hit a rocky point several months ago when the Pacific Media Workers Guild, the union representing The Maui News newsroom, advertising and circulation workers, filed an unfair labor practices claim with the National Labor Relations Board.
“We wanted members to come and observe the proceedings. That’s very common. We often make our negotiations open to members to attend, and the company walked out of the bargaining session,” said Kaitlin Gillespie, Staff representative with the Pacific Media Workers Guild.
Since then, the union has allowed people to come in as observers, but Gillespie said, “I think it just goes to show the level of disrespect.”
Gillespie said workers are several months into the latest chapter of negotiations and that employees have been without a current contract since 2020.
In addition to The Maui News, the union also represents employees at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, and media workers in California.
“They would allow for basically unlimited outsourcing to the mainland or overseas, they would permit unlimited what we call interchange between workers–so folks in the advertising department doing the work of reporters or vice versa. And our workers are very worried about this,” said Gillespie.
Workers we talked to at the picket claim the owners are using “stalling tactics” and making “unreasonable requests” including a reduction in hours from the current 37.5 hours, down to 30.
“You show up to work for the week and you learn whether you’re working 37.5 or 30 hours. How can a young person or any person with a family budget not know whether their pay is going to be cut by 20-25% each week, on the week? There’s no way,” said Thayer.
Gillespie said that in addition to significant cuts in staffing in recent years, and “a nasty round of buyouts back in 2020,” there were also a number of positions that have gone unfilled.
“It’s pretty clear from the company’s proposals that they just want to keep letting the staff shrink and shrink and shrink, and do more and more work outside of Maui,” she said.
According to Gillespie, the union has been asking owners what they envision for the future of the paper. “Without the company telling us what its plan is, we can’t make any progress on a contract,” Gillespie said.
Union representatives called the current negotiations “heated.” “That is not typical. I always tell people, contract negotiations are not as sexy as you think they are… We’ve had to be very clear with the company that we’re very angry about these proposals and that our members are very worried.”
Bargaining hasn’t always been this contentious.
“We’ve been able to come up with fair and equitable contracts for the first 20 years or so that we’ve been under their ownership,” said Collias of Ogden. “Now, they’re fighting tooth-and-nail, and offering $12.67 an hour to new hires. We believe that will eventually kill the paper quicker than not. We honestly believe we are here today fighting for the survival of The Maui News.”
Fellow employee, Matthew Thayer, a 42-year veteran of the newspaper, began working at The Maui News as a college intern in 1980, eventually becoming a full time sports writer, and then photographer.
Thayer agreed: “They’ve done alright by us for 21-and-a-half (years), but now they’ve hired some union busting attorneys from the mainland who are trying to break our union and to fracture our workers so they can probably send jobs to the mainland,” he said. “I don’t know how you can cover our unique island community from West Virginia or Ohio. The problems that could cause are monumental–misspelled names, not understanding the Hawaiian culture… .”
In addition to new proposals, employees say they have been working without a raise for nearly a decade. “During that span, the staff and its unions have, in fact, agreed to givebacks to help the company through economic challenges,” according to an online petition on the Action Network website in support of workers, which had drawn more than 600 letters of support at last count.
Times have changed
The evolution of the newspaper
Union representatives say that in 2000, there were nearly 30 individuals in the newsroom. Today, that number stands at nine.
“When I first started, we were under the ownership of the Cameron family,” said Collias who began work as an employee of the paper in 1990. “We had… I want to say around 25-28 employees in the newsroom. Now we have nine… It’s hard to get the paper out every day and cover what we need to cover.”
Collias explained that the newspaper went from an afternoon newspaper to a morning publication. During better times, the newspaper went from no Saturday paper to a daily publication that was circulated seven days a week. The current newspaper is published six days a week, having eliminated its Sunday edition in July of 2019.
“We’ve been faced with the reality that newspapers are struggling. We get that. We do. But at the same time, through two different publishers before our current publisher, mainland guys–Ogden guys–they came here and we were able to negotiate fair and equitable contracts. We gave a little each time, but this time, they’re basically asking for everything and we’re not willing to do that,” said Collias.
Thayer also weighed in on the changing times. “People still–they trust The Maui News and they still welcome us in their lives, so that hasn’t changed a bit. The fact that our role in the community is still the same–we’re a smaller paper, we’re thinner, we have a much smaller staff, but we’re still working hard,” he said.
He said the biggest change is this contract.
“We’ve always been able to hammer out a contract with our ownership. We’ve had mainland publishers before and sometimes it was difficult, but we were able to come to a contract solution. They have decided to hire these union busters and they’re going at it hard,” said Thayer.
Maui’s Kathy Collins, an entertainer, media personality and columnist, spoke in support of her fellow Maui News ʻohana.
“Almost 50 years ago, I worked for the Maui Publishing Company when the Cameron’s owned it. It was The Maui News, KMVI radio, (and) KMVI TV all together in one family. Back then it truly was a newspaper for the people and by the people,” said Collins who called the thought of outsourcing “unthinkable.”
“It’s just so sad to me to see The Maui News declining in the way it has been. It’s an institution and its employees need to be treated with a lot more respect,” said Collins.
Buck Joiner, a 40 year subscriber of the newspaper, and resident of Maui said, “I count on them for local news, what’s happening here. It’s very critical that we keep The Maui News alive and going. I enjoy it.”
Joiner said he looks for articles by contributors and “always” reads the opinion page. “That is really important–to know what is the heartbeat down inside of Maui. It’s a good place to find it. I certainly don’t agree with a lot of them, but that’s where you find out.”
Aside from those who showed up at the picket, support has come from various sectors of the community.
“We believe just by the community outpouring–from the County Council and their 9-0 proclamation vote supporting us, to coaches that I see at games, to going to the grocery store and people saying ‘Go Maui News,’–we feel the support from the community,” said Collias.
“We knew we’d have some employees and some former workers, but supporters from the community have showed up to show that they care about this paper. Really, we’re fighting for our livelihoods, but we’re fighting for this community too,” said Thayer.
“We feel that it’s important that we cover this island and its people, its politics, its sports. We take it very seriously. They have dedicated, talented workers, young storytellers coming up, veteran journalists, and we work hard to keep everybody informed of what’s going on on this island,” said Thayer.
At the end of the day, Gillespie said her hope is that the company starts taking the union and its employees seriously. “I hope the company starts listening to employees. Employees are very concerned about the future of their jobs and the future of this paper, and it’s been time for the company to listen to us, but after today they can’t keep ignoring that,” she said.
*This is a developing story. Additional video and details will be added accordingly.