by Carl Hall
HONOLULU — More than seven years after illegally firing two reporters for union activity, management of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald is seeking to reduce the amount of back pay it owes the wronged journalists.
Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey D. Wedekind conducted a two-day compliance hearing at the Honolulu offices of the National Labor Relations Board in March – the last phase of a legal marathon that started when the Hilo daily suspended, and then fired, reporter Hunter Bishop in 2005, and David Smith in 2006.
Lawyers at the hearing slogged through a mountain of paystubs, overtime logs and unemployment records. The company faces a bill of about a quarter of a million dollars, including back wages, expenses and interest.
The Tribune-Herald, the Big Island’s leading daily, also had to offer Bishop and Smith their jobs back. Bishop returned to work last year. Smith declined to come back, saying he didn’t want to subject himself to any further harassment.
The company now claims that Smith – who is owed the bulk of the back pay — took himself out of the job market in 2007 when he was forced to file for his Guild pension.
Evidence shows Smith mounted a diligent search for work, however, but was unable to find steady employment. Recently, after a period spent freelancing and doing some technical writing, he landed a position as news editor for a Hilo-based online news site, Bigislandnow.com.
He and Bishop will have to wait at least another six weeks before the case is ripe for decision – barring a settlement. Once the NLRB finishes checking its arithmetic one more time, the company lawyers get a week to double-check the figures, and then all the lawyers will take up to another 35 days to submit legal briefs.
The administrative law judge’s ruling can be appealed to the courts.