Personal File: Law Suits instead of a Gold Watch

News-Press accuses Teamsters of tagging; updates on Melinda Burns firing

Santa Barbara News-Press Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge against Teamsters Union for Secondary Activity

SANTA BARBARA, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)—The Santa Barbara News-Press has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against the Teamsters Union for threatening and coercive secondary activities directed at its distributors in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

The charge states that the union, through its representatives, engaged in, or encouraged others to engage in, secondary activities directed at independent newspaper distributors whose livelihoods depend on selling individual copies of the News-Press from newspaper racks. Banners calling for the cancellation of the News-Press have been placed on a local newspaper rack. Single copy newspaper racks have also been vandalized with anti-News-Press graffiti, and newspapers have been stolen from the racks.

Based on the union’s concerted and public campaign urging subscribers to cancel the paper, the News-Press believes that this theft and vandalism, which hurt its distributors, are attributable to the union.

The union’s campaign against the News-Press most recently included reporter Melinda Burns’ claim that she was fired from the paper in retaliation for her role in the union campaign. This claim is absolutely false. Ms. Burns was terminated because she violated journalistic standards by repeatedly injecting personal bias into her reporting. She continued to do so for at least five years, in spite of repeated warnings by her editors that this was unacceptable. The specifics of Ms. Burns’ actions are outlined in her termination letter from Associate Editor Scott Steepleton.

Mr. Steepleton wrote, “Despite counseling, admonishment and warnings over the past five years, you have ignored this duty and consistently produced biased and one-sided reporting which promotes your own personal views. You have been given repeated warnings, and every opportunity to improve, however, you have chosen not to do so.” It is this well documented history of biased reporting that resulted in the termination of Ms. Burns.

One of the latest examples of bias includes an article Ms. Burns wrote on ballot Measure D which ended up in a campaign mailer that was distributed to thousands of voters and made it appear that the News-Press was endorsing the measure.

The News-Press has an obligation to its readers to have unbiased news reporting and could not in good faith continue to tolerate such lack of balance in reporting, particularly where it would impact an election campaign. Contacts Agnes Huff Communications Agnes Huff, PhD, 310-641-2525

(Hat Tip to poster “Royale With Cheese” for the initial Huff-reference, which had the beauty headline, “N-P Files Another NLRB Claim; Steepleton Slags Burns.”

The following are comments from another post regarding this press release:

This is the most asinine charge I have ever read. To call Melinda Burns a biased reporter is a classic example of stupidity. I do not know Scott Steepleton, but from what I have seen he is incapable of judging the work of others, especially that of a total professional like Melinda Burns.

And just who is biased here? Melinda writes a balanced pre-election story about Measure D, a issue the News-Press editorial opposed. Who’s biased?

So her story got picked up by Measure D supporters. How many candidates tout newspaper endorsements in campaigning? It is common practice for campaigns to quote from newspaper articles. The bias would fall to the supporters of the issue, not the reporter who has presented both sides.

My guess is that Wendy knows she messed up in firing Melinda so now she starts a campaign to discredit her and save herself. Well, I got news for you Wendy. It’s too late.

Posted by another ex inmate | November 11, 2006 07:41 AM

Come on…accusing the Teamsters Union of street graffiti? Looks like an excuse to dump on a dedicated 21-year employee just before a fancy dinner, with candlelight both inside and outside the Four Seasons. Employee matters are “internal,” Wendy insists, unless she wants to slam someone unfairly, without opportunity to respond, by releasing excerpts from an employee’s confidential personnel file in a national press release. But if an employee speaks up against her publicly in a newspaper like the Indy, where Wendy can respond, bam…a lawsuit. Sick. Does the union mean anything? Isn’t the union supposed to protect employees from this kind of abuse?

Posted by incredulous | November 11, 2006 09:14 AM

A few points …

Yes, a union is very good at protecting from this sort of illegal firing a) once its presence is certified by the feds and b) through a contract.

The newsroom has neither so far. Wendy is stalling, stalling, stalling contract negotiaions by objecting to the landslide election with the NLRB.

So… SB, cancel your subscriptions. If this downward spiral continues, you’ll be doing it anyway. Do it now and you’ve got a chance to help end that spiral.

Secondly, this asinine charge that the union is responsible for vandalizing a newsrack is patently absurd, unless they’ve got some hard evidence (doubt it, where’s the police report then?). These boxes are planted on friggin street corners. The whole concept behind a newspaper machine is that it’s ACCESSIBLE TO THE ENTIRE POPULATION.

Note to Santa Barbara: Only an idiot would take your entire town for idiots. That’s the writing to be found between the lines of that press release.

And btw, since when does a company put contents from somebody’s personnel file online? In a national press release, no less. Actionable?

As a longtime observer of labor disputes, I can tell you the Teamsters have a few far more tried, true and effective — and legal — pressure tactics to fall back on, rather than vandalism and graffiti. Why would the Teamsters risk taking to the streets with a Sharpie?

Prediction: Charging Melinda with bias is incredibly subjective. You can’t prove it. The paper is going to lose a round in firing Melinda, who will be reinstated and justly compensated.

Posted by a few things | November 11, 2006 10:14 AM

I am amazed and astonished by the latest posting by Agnes Huff. I hope someone from the legal community can comment on the legality of publishing an excerpt from an employee’s file, without fear of reprisal. I believe that there are laws regarding this and it would be a service to everyone to know these facts. What is also amazing is that this release is not only unprofessional, it shows the world how vindictive and immature Ms. McCaw is. Melinda Burns has over 20 years of experience and has won numerous awards for excellence for her writing. I don’t know of any awards Ms McCaw has won for her journalistic skills. This is just another “personal” vendetta thinly veiled by Ms Huff’s spin doctoring. I hope the citizens of SB will turn out in force tonight to support Melinda and the rest of the employees. Posted by Ex Inmate | November 11, 2006 10:48 AM

and one more thing …

If Melinda’s “bias” issues were an ongoing 5 year problem, why terminate her just days after she successfully led a union drive to victory?

I’m calling b.s.

This was a vendetta, plain and simple. Payback from Wendy for DEVALUING her “shop” as it shall soon be known by, I’m guessing, millions of dollars.

The McCaw News Press:

bling -> blang -> blop -> thud.

Kinda like the rest of her business endeavors.

Congrats to the newsroom for your 33-6 defeat of Wendy’s McNews machine. I have no doubt that in due time you will reap many rewards - both journalistically and financially.

Posted by a few things | November 11, 2006 11:16 AM

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