NLRB Cites Many Illegal Moves by Newspaper Management and Sets February Hearing
The National Labor Relations Board today, December 28, filed a complaint against the Santa Barbara News-Press alleging labor law violations stemming from newsroom unionization efforts and set a February 26 hearing in Santa Barbara. Charges include the firing of veteran reporter and union leader Melinda Burns, illegal gag orders, threatened suspensions, and cancellation of union activist Starshine Roshell’s column. “The NLRB general counsel’s decision to prosecute the News-Press for its serious labor law violations validates the union’s position that the News-Press is a labor outlaw trafficking in threats and intimidation to transform the newsroom from a haven of journalistic professionalism to a den of arbitrary management fiat,” said Ira Gottlieb, attorney for the Teamsters Union.
Not so, contends David J. Millstein, general counsel for the News-Press. On Thursday afternoon (soon after this article was initially posted), he explained, “The News-Press welcomes the opportunity to have these issues heard as part of due process by the administrative law judge, and intends to further demonstrate that the management decisions in question were fair, consistent and undertaken for legitimate and lawful reasons. We are confident that these claims will be found without merit."
Newsroom employees recently voted 33-6 to affiliate with the Teamsters. The NLRB has already set a January 9 hearing at the Santa Barbara Bankruptcy Court over News-Press allegations that the election was unfair. Gottlieb termed the paper’s claim “frivolous.”
The union will press its request that the NLRB “seek injunctive relief against the News-Press to gain immediate reinstatement for Ms. Burns and a rollback of the News-Press’ unlawful policies and discipline” pending the February 26 trial before an administrative law judge, Gottlieb said. The hearing will be held at 1 p.m. at the Bankruptcy Court, a federal facility.
The NLRB complaint released today, December 28, cited these alleged federal labor law violations: the cancellation of Roshell’s column; the issuing of two-day suspensions to a delegation of employees who sought to deliver a petition to News-Press owner Wendy McCaw (pictured); and the firing of Melinda Burns in retaliation in order to discourage others from taking part in legally protected unionization activities.
The NLRB complaint also charged that the News-Press interfered with employee rights by issuing an August 10 “conflict of interest” policy restricting public speaking; that associate editor Scott Steepleton “threatened employees with discipline if they engaged in an employee delegation;” and that human resources director Yolanda Apodaca issued a memo “threatening its employees with discipline if they engaged in any employee delegation.”
The February 26 hearing will be conducted similar to a civil trial but without a jury, with evidence taken and witnesses called, Gottlieb said. It is not known whether McCaw will be called as a witness. The complaint resulted from a “thorough and painstaking investigation” by the NLRB staff, including witness interviews and evidence gathering, Gottlieb said.
The prosecution “is further validation of the ‘McCaw Obey the Law’ signs displayed in shop windows and vehicles in town, which have drawn litigation threats made to local business owners by a News-Press lawyer, and a sharp rebuke to that McCaw lawyer from a constitutional lawyer at the ACLU,” Gottlieb said.