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Hawaiian Telcom workers begin 2-day strike

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Members of the Hawaiian Telcom union walked off their jobs and on the picketline in front of the company's Bishop St. headquarters, with scores of union members on the sidewalk.
  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Members of the Hawaiian Telcom union walked off their jobs and on the picketline in front of the company's Bishop St. headquarters, with scores of union members on the sidewalk.
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More than 100 Hawaiian Telcom unionized workers walked off the job at the company’s downtown headquarters and began picketing at 10:30 a.m. today as they began a 2-day strike.

More than 700 Hawaiian Telcom workers who are members of IBEW local 1357 have been working without a contract since Oct.  24. The head of the union sent a letter to company officials saying the walkout would continue until 8 p.m. Friday.

The union on Oct.  31 voted to reject a contract proposal from the company that included reductions in sick leave and increased employee contributions for health insurance premiums.

The company offered the union a three-year contract that included a 1 percent annual raise plus a $500 signing bonus each year. It also included a cut in paid sick leave to eight weeks a year from 26 weeks in the old contract. The company also proposed employees pay 10 percent of their medical premium. The company currently pays 100 percent of the premium. In addition, the company proposed freezing the current defined benefit pension plan and enhancing a 401(k) plan for employees.

Union spokesman Harold Dias, international representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said the union action was not timed to coincide with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu this week with 21 heads of state and their entourages. "The company chose the timing to give us the last, best, final offer," Dias said.

Dias said one of the union’s most serious concerns is what he called Hawaiian Telcom’s continuing outsourcing of jobs. He said 50 to 80 people were recently laid off, and that the entire operator services operation was moved to Saipan.

Walkoffs were also taking place at the company’s Moanalua baseyard, he said.

Workers picketed outside company headquarters on Bishop Street. Signs had messages such as "No takeaways" and "It’s not company need, it’s corporate greed."

Hawaiian Telcom spokesman Scott Simon told reporters today that the company offered to extend the contract beyond APEC and that the union turned it down.

Simon, HawTel executive director for corporate communications, said the company expects that all services will be continued. He said management personnel have been assigned to line duties such as linesmen and electrical technicians.

The company has also brought on contract workers and is using outside contract companies, Simon said.

Simon he did not immediately know how many workers walked off job this morning. He said some workers said they are unhappy with strike action and planned to leave the union.

Simon said the company is focusing on making sure public safety agencies such as police, fire and medical personnel are served, in addition to activities in connection with APEC.

He said there may be delays in non-essential services but does not anticipate that any service will be shut down entirely.

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