By: M.L. Stein
Oakland Tribune asks court for injunction preventing the city council from selecting another paper as official legal ad vehicle sp.
BY WITHDRAWING ITS advertising from the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune in support of a union boycott of the newspaper, the City of Oakland assumed regulatory powers that even the National Labor Relations Board does not have, a Tribune lawyer argued in court.
Paul Duvall recently asked a U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco for an injunction to prevent the Oakland City Council from carrying out its resolution to select another official newspaper for legal advertising, support a union boycott of the Tribune and four other dailies in the Alameda Newspaper Group, and “urge all citizens of Oakland to stop purchasing and advertising in the group until the labor dispute is successfully concluded.”
The council also voted to cancel city subscriptions to the Tribune.
ANG is in its sixth year of contract negotiations with the Newspaper Guild.
Before Judge Charles Legge, Duvall attacked the city’s contention that if it continued to advertise in the Tribune, it would be exploiting the disputed labor conditions and improperly endorsing ANG’s negotiating position.
The lawyer said that argument is based on “the false premise that the advertising copy would be set and printed under the disputed labor conditions.”
In fact, Duvall continued, ANG ad copy is composed and set by members of Local 21 of the Bay Area Typographical Union, which is not participating in the boycott called by the Central Labor Council of Alameda County, AFL-CIO.
He said the city council’s resolution interferes with collective bargaining and attempts to “compel an agreement through economic pressure” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. By such action, the city “has used the leverage of power to step over the line” and taken a role that even the NLRB does not assume, he added.
Duvall noted that federal labor laws mandate that employers negotiate in good faith for a collective bargaining agreement but do not order the parties to reach an agreement.
Duvall also said the council infringed on the First Amendment by urging the public to cancel subscriptions and advertisements, thereby “limiting circulation of information to the public.”
Diane Simon, an attorney for the city, argued that the council was not trying to regulate collective bargaining but merely exercising its “proprietary” authority in approving the resolution.
In her brief, she accused ANG of attempting to force the city to support the newspaper group in the collective bargaining process.
Simon also rejected Duvall’s First Amendment complaint, saying the council’s action was not related to the content of the newspaper.
“There was no indication of suppression of speech,” she said. “The resolution was not in response to editorial criticism. The council simply expressed its dislike of ANG’s labor practices.”
William Sokol, an attorney representing Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, a professional labor organizer who initiated the council’s resolution, told the court that his client was exercising his right “to speak on an issue of public importance and be the leader he is expected to be.”
Outside the courtroom, Sokol said that if De La Fuente had stated the views expressed in the resolution as an individual councilman, there likely would have been no litigation about his statement.
Sokol further supported the council’s effort to express its collective view.
“There is nothing in case law that says a council cannot support a boycott,” he said.
In a written declaration to the court, Robert Oristgaglio, ANG senior vice president/advertising, said the city annually spends $40,000 to $45,000 for ads in the Tribune.
Since the council’s endorsement of the boycott, he continued, “large advertisers have called the newspaper to express concern. These advertisers indicated they may cancel their ads in the future but did not want to take any public action at this time.”
ANG wants the court to enjoin the city from implementing its resolution, including buying ads in any medium other than the Tribune because of any labor dispute.
Legge took the case under advisement.
Meanwhile, attorneys for the council said it will take no further action to carry out the resolution until ANG’s lawsuit against the city is resolved.
The newspaper company is seeking compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in the suit, which accuses the council of violating federal law by interfering with collective bargaining.