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Feds File News-Press Complaint

Barney Gets the Dirt on the Latest NP Battle


Friday, June 1, 2007

Feds File News-Press Complaint: On Thursday The National Labor Relations Board filed a wide-ranging complaint against the Santa Barbara News-Press, setting an Aug. 14 prosecution date.

The NLRB complaint alleges that the newspaper violated federal law by:

On the Beat

Firing nine newsroom employees during the current unionization effort; Canceling Starshine Roshell’s column in retaliation for her union activities; Threatening to suspend 11 employees for attempting to deliver a letter to owner Wendy McCaw demanding better treatment; Denying employees annual bonuses for anti-union reasons; Ordering workers not to wear “McCaw, Obey the Law” buttons and signs on their vehicles; Having the newspaper’s attorney, David Milstein, intrude on a union meeting; And coercively surveilling and interrogating employees engaged in legally protected activities, such as attending and participating in rallies and demonstrations, and information-sharing.

The NLRB is reportedly still considering whether to petition the federal district court in L.A. to immediately obtain an injunction to compel the NP to re-instate the nine fired newsroom employees and to remedy the other unfair labor practices the agency is prosecuting over.

The Aug. 14 NLRB hearing is scheduled to be held at the federal bankruptcy court on State Street, which ironically is owned by McCaw.

The nine employees mentioned are Melinda Burns, Anna Davison, Dawn Hobbs, Barney McManigal, Rob Kuznia, Tom Schultz, Melissa Evans, John Zant, and Bob Guiliano.

Newsroom employees voted overwhelmingly last September to affiliate with the Graphics Communications Conference of the Teamsters Union, but then faced a series of barriers set up by McCaw. Workers have not been able to get her to the bargaining table.

Tom Jacobs Going to Rubicon: Tom Jacobs, one of the few top-notch journalists left at the News-Press, has done just that - left to join the Ventura-based Rubicon Theater Company. For Tom, a brilliant, sensitive theater critic and - for 13 years - the paper’s lead arts and culture writer, the paper’s recent smear of former editor Jerry Roberts was too much to stomach.

I have felt deeply conflicted over the past months - torn between my commitment to the amazing Santa Barbara arts community and my unease with the direction of the paper,” Tom said. “On April 22 - the day the infamous front-page article on Jerry Roberts’ computer ran - I realized it was time to leave. I stuck around just long enough to wrap up coverage of the spring performance season. ”

I joined the News-Press in April 1994. I moved up from Los Angeles, where I was an arts and entertainment writer for the Daily News. I have worked full-time for five newspapers during my 30-year career, and with the exception of the past 11 months, the News-Press gig was the most satisfying of them all. I offer my respect, thanks and best wishes to the many outstanding colleagues and editors I have worked with on De la Guerra Plaza.”

On June 11, Tom will join the Rubicon as communications director and won’t have to commute to Santa Barbara from Ventura any longer.

Cappello Replies: After I wrote about the News-Press training its big, expensive gun - attorney Barry Cappello - to challenge unemployment benefits for reporters the paper fired, I heard from Barry.

As I understand it, the reporters’ position is that not only were they illegally fired while protesting the firing of Melinda Burns and Anna Davison, but since they believed that the protest was protected under the NLRB, they had a right to unemployment benefits.

I’m informed that two reporters are receiving benefits, and that two other won their cases, but the paper seeks to challenge this at a June 20 hearing. I also heard that two others were first denied administratively, and then OK’d by a judge. The NP is appealing one case. The second, involving reporter Dawn Hobbs, was tossed out because she’s on workers’ comp.

While it seems to me that the paper is being vindictive, likely spending more money fighting the cases than it would have to spend allowing benefits to the people it improperly fired, Cappello pointed out, quite properly, that it has a right to legal representation, just as the workers do with union legal help.

The News-Press owes a responsibility to its current employees and the general principle to object to meritless claims for unemployment benefits,” Cappello wrote to me.

Why,” he asked, “were the former employees deserving of unemployment benefits when they are indisputably working at a competitor of the News-Press, [The Santa Barbara Newsroom].”

But since they aren’t being paid for the news website they set up, it’s not employment, and in fact they are looking for real work, I’m told.

Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb counters, “This is about the Santa Barbara News-Press‘ vindictiveness, anti-union stance, and nothing else.” All that’s necessary for benefits to be warranted is a good faith belief by the employee that he/she was engaged in protected activity,” he said.

Anyone who thinks the entire battle for newsroom union representation is about finished is in for a long wait. It’s clearly going to be fought out, inch by inch, month by month, and no doubt, year by year.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or at 805-962-1156. He writes online columns on Tuesdays and Fridays and in the Thursday print edition.

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