(CN) - Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper publisher, violated Hawaiian law by firing more than 50 workers just days after selling the Honolulu Advertiser to its longtime competitor, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, the Advertiser's employees' union claims in O'ahu Circuit Court, Honolulu.
Gannett's deal with Oahu Publishing Co., publisher of the Star-Bulletin, is expected to be completed this summer, pending approval from the U.S. Justice Department antitrust division.
Gannett publishes 83 daily U.S. newspapers, including USA Today.
While terms of the deal have not been disclosed, Gannett reportedly provided at least $40 million in financing to the smaller company through its Gannett Pacific Corp. subsidiary.
According to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 142, defendant Lee Webber, president of Gannett Pacific Corp., announced the sale of the Advertiser on Feb. 25, and less than two weeks later said the company would ax at least 50 workers by the end of April.
The union said the speed with which Gannett is firing people violates Hawaii's Dislocated Worker's Act. They claim the Act is "clear and unambiguous in requiring 60-notice prior to the termination of employees from a divestiture, sale or other transaction of business."
Any shorter notice period, the union said, "leaves [the workers] inadequate time to prepare for the termination and denies them statutory rights."
The union seeks punitive damages and penalties under the Act, which states that each affected employee is eligible for back pay and benefits for the period of violation.
In addition, the Act mandates civil penalties of up to $500 a day, to be deposited in the union's employment and training fund.
In reports published by the Advertiser in the wake of the announced sale, the union said as many as 175 could lose their jobs as the operations of the paper are merged with the Star-Bulletin, a perennial money-loser that will become Honolulu's newspaper of record.
David Black, owner of Oahu Publications, said he would try to sell the Star-Bulletin before merging the two papers. If he does, the new paper would likely be called the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, he said.
Four union members, Patrick J. De Costa, Lance Kamada, Lorin Okamura and Todd Yamana are the named plaintiffs in the case.
They are represented by Rebecca Covert and Herbert Takahashi of Takahashi, Vasconcellos & Covert in Honolulu.
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