Top Union Organizer for ‘Santa Barbara News-Press’ Fired

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By: Joe Strupp

The top union organizer at the Santa Barbara News-Press, who was among those responsible for the newsroom’s recent vote for representation by a Teamsters affiliate, was fired on Friday, according to union leaders who today filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Melinda Burns, a 21-year veteran of the embattled paper, becomes the 28th newsroom staffer to leave the daily during the recent labor unrest, which began with a massive editorial resignation on July 6. Those initial departures, which included former editor Jerry Roberts, were sparked by alleged newsroom meddling by owner Wendy McCaw.

Since then, more than two-dozen staffers have left, most choosing to resign, while several have been fired. During the same time span, remaining newsroom employees voted to be represented by the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. That vote, which the paper has since challenged, occurred Sept. 27.

Burns was among the top newsroom veterans calling for union organizing, while also leading a subscriber cancellation campaign, in which readers were asked to sign postcards confirming their cancellations, just weeks after the resignations began. “Some people have just signed them on the spot,” Burns told E&P about the effort in July. “We don’t know how many we have gotten, but it is hundreds, we are hoping to get thousands.” She could not be reached for comment today.

In a statement, the GCC-IBT announced it had filed a complaint with the NLRB, saying Burns’ firing amounted to a “retaliatory and unlawful discharge.”

“Her firing is perhaps the most extreme example to date of the continuing campaign by the News-Press management to discourage and frustrate the collective voice of its newsroom staff, so eloquently and clearly expressed a month ago,” the statement said.

News-Press spokeswoman Agnes Huff had no initial comment Monday afternoon.

“This latest example of vindictive and lawless labor relations at the News-Press shows shocking disrespect for Burns’s following and her sparkling reputation in the Santa Barbara community, and for the sweat equity she has earned over more than two decades of reporting,” the union statement added. “It is transparently obvious that Ms. Burns was fired because of her prominent public role – well-known to News-Press upper management – in introducing the newsroom staff to the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (GCC-IBT) and then helping to lead the campaign for union representation to an overwhelming victory.”

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