The U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington, D.C., Circuit, has ruled that two former reporters for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald should be reinstated and provided back pay because they were wrongly fired for engaging in lawful union activity.
The appeals court agreed to enforce an earlier determination by the National Labor Relations Board that former reporters Hunter Bishop and Dave Smith are entitled to reinstatement and back pay.
Stephens Media, which owns the Tribune-Herald, had asked the appeals court to review the labor board’s findings. Bishop was fired in 2005 after he persistently asked the newspaper’s editor whether a meeting between the editor and a fellow union employee about allowing a union representative into the newspaper building could lead to disciplinary action.
Smith was fired in 2006 after he secretly recorded a meeting with the newspaper’s editor about his job performance. He chose to record the conversation because he believed — correctly — that the editor would not allow him to bring a witness to the meeting.
The labor board determined that Bishop and Smith had engaged in lawful union activity and that the company had violated federal labor law by firing them. The appeals court upheld that determination last Friday.
“It is difficult to describe how I felt this morning when I heard the news of the favorable court ruling,” Smith said. “The past six years since I was illegally terminated – the only time I have ever been fired from a job in my life – have been difficult, both from a financial standpoint and from the uncertainty of having my journalism career unjustly jerked out from under me. “However, I never doubted that justice would eventually be served. Hopefully the Hawaii Tribune-Herald now realizes that it cannot ride roughshod over its employees. “Both Hunter and I are grateful to the National Labor Relations Board and The Newspaper Guild for their efforts to protect the rights of workers. We also want to thank our many supporters through this long and arduous process.”
The Pacific Media Workers Guild (TNG-CWA Local 39521) represents more than 2,000 journalists and court interpreters in California and Hawaii. The former Hawaii Newspaper Guild had initially filed the unfair labor practices charges with the labor board on behalf of Bishop and Smith.
“While this case took several years, and disrupted the lives of two of our reporters, justice has prevailed,” the guild said in a statement. “This result should send a clear message: We will stand with our workers for as long as it takes to ensure their rights are protected.”
Bishop is now working as the Deputy Director of the Hawaii County Department of Environmental Management, and got some recent publicity after testifying before Hawaii County Council on the pilot project in which he is involved that trucks trash from East Hawaii to West Hawaii. Smith is a freelance journalist.
The Maui News reports that back pay for Smith could be as much as $200,000, but provided no estimate for Bishop.
Thanks to the Pacific Media Workers Guild for most of this story.