When the Blog Wags the Dog

FOOTBALL FURIES: Now that summer is officially dead and the schools are back in session, we have a few seconds to reflect on the advent of football season. I find the team names of Santa Barbara’s three high schools—I know, I know, there’s only one that really counts—really curious.

Santa Barbara High SchoolTHE high school—has the Dons, a name that refers back to the landed gentry who ran the show back when the Spaniards and Mexicans were still in charge. San Marcos—Santa Barbara’s second high school—has the Royals, which harkens to a priveleged elite even more exclusive than the Dons. Of course, that made a certain degree of sense. The parents of the first class of Royals were the tip of the spear of Santa Barbara’s suburban expansion in the late 1950s. Then in 1966, Dos Pueblos popped up, reflecting the fast and furious pace of growth and development in the Goleta Valley. DP has as their team the Chargers, which I suspect was a rip of the Chargers of San Diego, the professional football team started and owned by a hotel tycoon—one of the Hiltons, no less—and named after, some say, the instrument by which Americans could buy now and pay later. [Editor’s Note: That seems to be a somewhat dubious claim, but we’ll leave it in for rumor-starting sake.] (The DP’s Charger logo is not a credit card, or even the lighting bolts of the San Diego team, but rather a charging steed on top of a coat of arms.)

With names like these, why not have teams called the Fat Cats, Autocrats, and Plutocrats. But team names have meanings that transcend everything, especially their specific associations and connotations, no matter how offensive.

Just look at the Washington Redskins, a name so racist that even the NFL has sanctioned the team. But the Skins are beloved in a town whose population is overwhelmingly African-American. And once the football starts flying, all this is just so much lather. Then only thing that matters, then, is performance and results.

Typically, the News-Press has done a good job covering the gridiron exploits of Santa Barbara’s junior giants. This year, however, there’s reason to wonder just what the News-Press will do. Its prep sports reporter, Mike Traphagen, has announced his resignation from the newspaper, making him the 16th disaffected soul to depart the N-P for greener pastures in the past six weeks. Traphagen knew the local sports programs inside out, which makes his loss substantial.

Normally, someone like Traphagen would be replaced and there’d be a learning curve for the newcomer. But in this case, there’s reason to wonder what the News-Press’s commitment is to high school sports. In years past, N-P owner Wendy P. McCaw has wondered out loud how much money she could save by axing high school sports coverage altogether. Some, no doubt, but not nearly as much as the paper would lose in terms of community connection.

UNFAIR LABOR STRIFE: The News-Press reportedly dropped its Unfair Labor Practice complaint against the Teamsters organizers seeking sign the newspaper’s newsroom workers into a union. The News-Press action came after National Labor Relations Board investigators determined there was no merit to newspaper management’s claim of unfair tampering against union organizers.

Specifically, the News-Press had charged that former editors and managers who have since quit had pressured and coerced newsroom employees to sign Teamster pledge cards. Union representatives had countered that no one in a management position had behaved as charged, at least not while they were still employed by the News-Press. But even if former managers had urged News-Press workers to sign cards requesting a union election, the NLRB argued, there would be no coercive relationship.

huffhead.jpgNews-Press publicist Agnes Huff (pictured) denied the newspaper withdrew its complaint, stating the paper had simply amended it. The latest allegation is that newsroom workers seeking to affiliate with the Teamsters violated the National Labor Relations Board rules for organizing by marching “en masse” through the newsroom on several occasions in a loud and intimidating fashion. Huff said such behaviour was disruptive and bullying to other workers and would not be condoned.

While Huff did not elaborate with specific details of such incidents, newsroom workers supportive of the union said that they have gathered in groups to meet with editors or other management figures, or to give a rousing send-off to one of the many newsroom workers who have resigned in recent weeks. In one instance, a group of newsroom workers sought to meet with Wendy McCaw and approached her office in a sizable gathering to do so. They claim they were told McCaw was in a meeting, but that she might be available later in the day at 4 p.m. When the group started to assemble for the four o’clock meeting—which had never been officially scheduled—they were ordered by their editor Scott Steepleton to get back to work. They complied.

Even with the amended News-Press unfair labor practice complaint, Teamster organizer Marty Keegan expressed confidence the election could proceed swiftly, perhaps sooner than the September 21 target date. That’s of strategic significance, Keegan said, because the longer the newspaper could delay the union election, there would be fewer workers left likely to be sympathetic to the union cause.

At last count, eight non-management workers have left the News-Press in the past six weeks. According to the N-P publicist Agnes Huff, the newspaper has hired about a dozen replacement workers. Keegan added that the News-Press just fired the second law firm it had hired to maintain a union free workplace. In addition, newspaper management just terminated a contract with the security firm that had provided service for many years, opting for a new company instead, allegedly on the advice of the paper’s new “security counsultant.” That would be Nick Montano, a private investigator who engages in “corporate espionage.”

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