Outsourcing Gets Key Pressroom Go-ahead

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The print-outsourcing strategy for The Bakersfield Californian is not only unusual because the contract kept production going on the daily’s own presses. It also provides a legal road map for newspapers skittish about contracting out work that union employees are doing.

“It’s huge, you can definitely use this as precedent,” says David Durham, a senior shareholder in the San Francisco office of law firm Littler Mendelson. “I think this is going to cause a lot of newspapers with unions to say, ‘Well, is there really a problem here? Can we [outsource], if it makes sense and there’s a real business need?'”

When the Californian in January announced it intended to hire Brad Moseley Inc. (BMI) of Reno, Nev., to take over printing of the 59,433-circulation daily, Doug Brown, a local official with the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters union, vowed to fight the outsourcing ”tooth and nail.” The union, which represented about 20 of the 34 employees who lost their jobs at the newspaper, argued it had jurisdiction over printing work.

As the March 17 date for turning the printing over to BMI neared, the local and the paper agreed to binding arbitration over the issue. The union also went to federal court in Fresno for an emergency injunction to stop the outsourcing.

A federal judge denied the injunction request. A few days later, arbitrator R. Douglas Collins ruled in favor of the Californian, saying two provisions of the labor contract backed its position that it was free to outsource.

“One, he interpreted the management rights clause broadly, which is not going to be terribly important because newspapers have different management clauses,” says Durham. “But the other thing is huge. Unions always argue that it’s implied that you can’t subcontract work in the middle of a bargaining contract. The arbitrator explicitly rejected that argument, saying if the parties want to prohibit subcontracting, they know how to do it.”

Newspapers are therefore free to introduce outsourcing at any time, so long as there is no express prohibition against it in their labor agreements, he adds.

Neither Brown nor other officials of the Bakersfield Teamsters local could be reached for comment. Durham says the binding arbitration means the case is over.

The fact that the outsourcing ? or “insourcing,” as similar strategies are sometimes called ? is taking place inside the Californian’s own press shop attracted industry attention, Durham says, but didn’t complicate the paper’s position. “If you think about it, legally, none of that matters,” he adds. “If you’re actually outsourcing, it doesn’t matter where, whether it’s to another newspaper, or a commercial printer.” Or, as the Californian’s case shows, even inside the paper’s own production plant.

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