NLRB Claims Santa Barbara Paper Wrongly Fired 7 Staffers

By: Joe Strupp

A day after the Santa Barbara News-Press lost its challenge against a newsroom vote to unionize last fall, the troubled newspaper has been dealt another blow as the National Labor Relations Board chose to uphold a string of unfair labor charges, including the unlawful firing of seven staffers engaged in union activities.

The NLRB issued the complaint late Tuesday that determined the paper acted improperly in the firing of former staffers Anna Davison, Melissa Evans, Dawn Hobbs, Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal, Thomas Schultz and John Zant. All of those were terminated last month after they hung a banner over a freeway urging a boycott of the paper.

The complaint also contends that the paper violated union organizer’s rights by issuing negative performance evaluations against several of the leaders, prohibiting them from wearing buttons on the job that promoted unionization, and from placing signs in their own vehicles. In addition, alleged threats by News-Press attorney A. Barry Cappello were deemed to be in violation of the employees’ rights.

The complaint accuses the paper of “coercively interrogating employees, verbally and in writing, about their union or other protected concerted activities.” NLRB officials also requested a review to determine if a Section 10 (j) injuction be imposed, which would temporarily block further firings or other actions against News-Press workers.

The complaint now goes before an administrative law judge for review. No date has been set.

“This federal labor agency decision to prosecute the News-Press for multiple serious labor law violations – comparable to a District Attorney’s decision to prosecute a criminal defendant for committing a crime – further undermines the News-Press’ recent delusional moronic ad campaign claiming it somehow was a victim,” union officials said in a statement. “In reality the News-Press has been systematically and illegally inflicting injury on its newsroom staff, the Santa Barbara community, and the collective bargaining process.”

News-Press spokeswoman Agnes Huff referred requests for comment from the paper to Cappello, who was not immediately available for comment.

The Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which was voted in to represent newsroom employees last fall, filed the NLRB charges last month after the seven fired employees lost their jobs.

On Monday, an administrative law judge denied a News-Press challenge against the union vote, determining that the election that authorized union representation had been valid.

The recent events are the latest in a long-running battle at the paper between newsroom workers and owner Wendy McCaw dating back to the July 6, 2006 resignation of several editors, including top editor Jerry Roberts, who claimed McCaw was interfering in newsroom decisions.

Since then, 38 employees have either quit or been fired, the newsroom has voted in the Teamster unit as its representative, and various NLRB complaints have been filed by both sides. McCaw also sued a reporter for the American Journalism Review for libel after she wrote an article about the dispute.

The NLRB issued a previous complaint in December that found the News-Press engaged in unfair labor practices and improperly sought to discourage union activities. The complaint, prompted by a string of employee charges filed with the NLRB in recent months, cited several examples of anti-union actions at the paper, including the suspension of several employees and the previous firing of former reporter Melinda Burns. Those charges are expected to be heard along with the newest complaint.

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