Lawyer Says Fired Santa Barbara Newspaper Workers Should be Reinstated

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A federal labor lawyer argued Monday that eight workers fired from the Santa Barbara News-Press should be put back on the job immediately because they are likely to prevail in their case claiming they were improperly fired for union activity.

Steve Wyllie, a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board, made his argument before U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson in the long-running case.

Lawyer Framroze Virjee, who represents the publisher of the newspaper, said the employees were fired for biased reporting and disloyalty.

The News-Press is owned by Ampersand Publishing LLC, which is headed by Wendy McCaw.

Wilson heard two hours of arguments but didn’t make an immediate ruling on the labor board’s request for a temporary injunction that would put the employees back to work.

The judge gave no indication when he would rule.

The paper has been embroiled in controversy since July 2006, when nearly every top editor quit in protest over what they said was the owner’s interference with news coverage.

McCaw said those who quit were upset they could no longer inject their personal opinions into the newspaper’s coverage.

Newsroom employees voted to form a union. The workers and the newspaper had been fighting since then over the legitimacy of the vote, which was certified by the National Labor Relations Board.

In an injunction petition, the labor board said the newspaper had failed to act since an administrative law judge recommended in December that the fired employees be reinstated with back pay.

News-Press attorney Barry Capello has said the newspaper has filed legal documents countering the reinstatement recommendation.

McCaw and other newspaper managers testified during previous hearings that concerns about biased reporting led to the dismissal of two workers in January 2007.

Six other reporters were fired a month later after protesting the previous two firings by hanging a sign over a freeway pedestrian bridge that read ?Cancel Your Newspaper Today!?

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