In the wake of Mainland owners of Maui County’s only daily newspaper attempting to cut staff pay and outsource work, the company is now facing a federal unfair labor practice charge.
The union representing The Maui News employees filed a claim this week with the National Labor Relations Board after publisher Chris Minford and representatives of West Virginia-based Ogden Newspapers walked out of a contract bargaining session on Maui last week, according to a news release.
One of Ogden’s leaders, Bob Nutting, also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates. An online petition with more than 60,000 signatures is pressuring MLB to force Nutting to sell the Pirates, alleging the team’s losing streak is tied to its greedy ownership.
Ogden owns more than 40 dailies and weeklies across the country. It acquired The Maui News in 2000.
The Pacific Media Workers Guild, a union representing Maui News newsroom, advertising and circulation workers, said Ogden executives last week had sought to deny union members from watching the bargaining session, a right protected by the National Labor Relations Act.
Ogden walked out of a session Sept. 22 with no contract proposals exchanged or discussed, instead using the half hour 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, according to the union.
“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,” reporter Lila Fujimoto, who has worked at The Maui News since 1997, said in the news release. “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.”
The company via email said it objected to having union members observe while they were on the clock.
“That was the case at the start of the meeting, and we objected to it,” said Minford, a longtime employee of The Maui News who became publisher in recent years.
Also, Minford said the company was not aware of any unfair labor practice filing.
“Frankly, we are disappointed that the union would send a press release before even discussing the issue with the company,” he said.
“We value and respect our relationship with the many employees who work so hard to produce The Maui News and we are saddened that the union would focus on a PR stunt rather than address substantive issues directly with us,” Minford added.
Ogden also faces an unfair labor practice charge for refusing to have all of its bargaining team meet in person for contract talks, the union said.
The claims come on the heels of an online petition showing community support for the county’s only daily newspaper. The petition had 500 letters sent to the publisher as of this afternoon.
Ogden’s 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% less work for the community, the union said.
The outsourcing proposal would allow 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.
Despite the challenging contract talks, Maui newsroom staff said it is committed to producing important local coverage.
“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.”
For years, Ogden has refused to reinvest in Maui News and has instead cut positions through layoffs and buyouts. All the while it has continued to buy up Mainland newspapers.
Recently, Nutting purchased Wigle Whiskey, a distillery that produces whiskey, cocktails, gin and other spirits in Pittsburgh, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The Pacific Media Workers Guild represents employees at The Maui News, Honolulu Star-Advertiser and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald, and media workers in California.