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Feds Add Complaints Against News-Press

Attorney’s Disruption of Union Meeting and Surveillance of Labor Rallies Are Added


On Monday afternoon, word came from the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office that two more complaints will be tacked onto the laundry list of unfair labor practice charges being filed against the Santa Barbara News-Press.

By Paul Wellman

David Millstein and Agnes Huff

The first complaint is that the newspaper’s attorney David Millstein (pictured with N-P spokesperson Agnes Huff) engaged in an unfair labor practice when he and accountant Norman Colavincenzo entered and disrupted a meeting between former News-Press reporters, their Teamster reps, and N-P advertisers at the public library on February 13. The meeting was to urge the advertisers to stop doing business with the News-Press. (For a recap, go here and scroll halfway down the story.) Millstein and attorney Barry Cappello, who also represents the News-Press, have contended that the meeting was being held in a public place, so Millstein and Colavincenzo – who supposedly called the former News-Press reporters “liars” and caused at least a couple advertisers to flee the meeting – were allowed to attend. After learning of the feds’ intent to add this to the complaint on Monday night, Millstein wrote in an email to this reporter, “The decision by the regional office makes no sense.”

The second complaint being added to the unfair labor practice charges against the News-Press is that the newspaper’s management have allegedly been videotaping the labor rallies. One such videographer can be seen here in this photo, which Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb suspects may have played a role in convincing the regional NLRB office to file such a complaint.

By Paul Wellman

A series of questions were sent to Agnes Huff and Barry Cappello after 6 p.m. on Monday afternoon. Millstein responded with his comment above at 7:45 p.m. As of 10 p.m. Monday night, neither Cappello nor Huff offered additional comments. At 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, Cappello offered the following via email: “The National Labor Relations Law provides that management may speak and defend itself from unfair Union tactics in an organizing campaign. Our office specifically stated that David Millstein attended a public meeting at the PUBLIC, note the word PUBLIC LIBRARY. The Teamsters, a Union well known for its unsavory organizing tactics, railed that he invaded a private meeting and the bloggers, including the Independent, rushed to publish those reckless misstatements. The Union signed an application at the library, (which we made available to your paper), which states the meeting will be open to the public. As a trial lawyer of over 40 years, I simply can’t wait to see how the NLRB staff tries to prove how either of these charges violated any law. Frankly, after reviewing the charges they say they will bring to trial, I see a shotgun approach, filing virtually anything and everything the Union has asked for, and it demonstrates the adage in the law that ‘it’s easier to charge but harder to prove.’ Every good lawyer and every good judge knows a case is over after both sides have finished. The News-Press has yet to start.”

The Teamsters’ attorney Ira Gottlieb was pleased with the news. He explained, “We are solemnly pleased the NLRB’s General Counsel again recognized that the Santa Barbara News-Press’s agents are trampling on its employees’ rights, though we regret that this employer seems to trample first, and ask questions, if at all, later. We are hopeful that the NLRB will soon decide that enough is enough, and that aggressive court action is equitably necessary to begin to repair the irreparable injury the News-Press has inflicted on its employees, the collective bargaining process, and the public interest.”

As our official Santa Barbara Media Blog recount, the current unfair labor practice charges are:

1) the eight “retaliatory” firings of Melinda Burns, Melissa Evans, Anna Davison, Dawn Hobbs, Barney McManigal, Rob Kuznia, Tom Schultz, and John Zant;

2) the four “discriminatory” performance evaluations of Dawn Hobbs, Karna Highes, Anna Davison, and Melissa Evans;

3) the cancelling of Starshine Roshell’s column;

4) the threat and issuance of suspensions for the August 24 letter delivery to owner Wendy McCaw;

5) the “gag order” policy of blocking employees from publicly speaking about their union stance;

6) the illegal ban on the “McCaw, Obey the Law” and “Banish the Bias” signs;

7) Scott Steepleton’s intimidation over leaks to other press outlets;

8) Millstein’s aforementioned entry into the union meeting;

9) and the surveillance videos of union rallies.

If you count the eight firings and four evaluations as individual charges, then this list is up to 19 unfair labor practice complaints that the feds have deemed strong enough to prosecute. There are an additional two complaints filed with the NLRB that have not been added to the official complaint yet but are still under review by the Division of Advice in Washington, D.C.: the union’s charge that attorney Barry Cappello was illegally threatening employees who engaged in pro-union activities and the charge filed by former editor Bob Guiliano that he was illegally fired because he himself refused to engage in the unfair labor practice of reprimanding a reporter for quoting the mayor too much. As well, there is the 10(j) injunction on the table for the NLRB to consider, which, if evoked, would essentially freeze the newspaper’s management from taking any employment actions and would move the case into high gear.

Meanwhile, the News-Press also filed a number of charges against the union; however, all of those charges have been throw out by the NLRB. Relatedly, an administrative law judge for the NLRB recently recommended that last September’s 33-6 unionization vote be certified, and just last Friday, the News-Press filed their objections to that judge’s decision.

So what’s next? First, these two new charges need to be officially added to the complaint. Then the feds’ case against the News-Press will follow, and insiders say that the NLRB is looking for dates toward the end of May.

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Comments from our previous website:

More good news for the good guys (and gals)!

I’m certain the NLRB has a great many cases to investigate and prosecute, and I’m equally certain the agency’s attorneys want to be thorough in their pursuit of the truth, but the time line for the News-Mess courtroom showdown seems to go on forever. Meanwhile the folks with the white hats, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, are bing told the same thing over and over: “Take a number, we’ll call you when we’re ready for you.”

This investigative and prosecutory process is badly flawed in its design, allowing Wendy and her evil flying monkeys to stall and tap dance for far too long — and in doing so they have made a mockery of this nation’s legal system.

Posted by niceFLguy | April 10, 2007 07:41 AM

A nice argument there by Barry the C, that any meeting for any purpose by any people held in any room of the public library therefore must be open to anyone else who wants to barge in and usurp the discussion by force and scare away the participants. However, as we have learned recently by many other examples about labor union organizing and union activities, the actual federal labor law may trump that premise about how public a public library meeting room may be.

Just like Teamsters members, because they are now in the Union, have to hold back on their free speech so it is not too aggressive against their employer and the advertisers —when the rest of the public can say and write more with far broader protection under the law— the superficial argument that Cappello is attempting probably will be rejected by NLRB because the basic intent is that the Employer deliberately busted into a Union meeting. This already may be addressed in prior rulings and case law.

NLRB may decide, eventually, that the location does not matter when considering that the location of the meeting was behind closed doors, down the stairs, in an obscure room in the library, no doubt selected because it is obviously a central and neutral venue for the invited meeting participants.

People just do not stumble into that library Townley Room because they are looking for a book. Crashing a meeting there in Townley Room is not like Nick Montano and his “employees” surveilling a Union meeting or conversation held on the public park lawn, using their directional long-range listening devices protruding from the Newspress building.

Besides, even if this argument by Cappello prevails with NLRB, what about the other 18 complaints? Cappello’s comment reported at the Independent blog here is silent on those other claims. Funny how when it suits his client he responds via email at 6:30 in the morning to a question send out late the prior night, but for anything else it is all stall and delay, lather and repeat.

Even if this all-public-is-PUBLIC library theory prevails with NLRB, that only is one of the Teamsters complaints down, but 18 are more to go.

So can I also bill at $600 per hour now?

I think I should get a piece of that action if I am quoted as a threat in the briefs by the Newspress lawyers, supposedly to help the cause of their pay-at-any-cost client.

Posted by First District Streetfighter | April 10, 2007 09:58 AM

I suppose that Millstein thinks that “it makes no sense” that he is barred from entering the women’s restroom, or going behind the counter, or into staff offices or meeting rooms, as long as these locations are within the library, because the library is “a public place”. The fact is that it was a private meeting in a rented room.

Posted by jqb | April 10, 2007 10:29 AM

It’s ironic that Barry Cappello uses the word “unsavory”, as that is the best word to describe himself, his client, and the others that she has surrounded herself with.

Posted by jqb | April 10, 2007 10:35 AM

The News-Press has yet to start.”

Did the NP lawyers just admit they’d been intentionally stalling any legal proceedings? They’ve had months to “start.” If they’ve yet to start, I wonder what the lawyers have been billing them for.

I see a shotgun approach, filing virtually anything and everything the Union has asked for…” Untrue, the NLRB has dismissed several Teamster objections, which are among the only few items the newspaper of record took to the time to report.

Perhaps the NLRB is choosing to accept these complaints because they are legitimate claims? Just maybe? If the SBNP wishes to cease and desist the accumulation of further complaints about their own their unsavory and unfair labor practices, it would be wise for them to stop committing them.

Posted by SBCitizen | April 10, 2007 11:14 AM

Just to pile on here, this is what the Indy reported about this infamous Townleyroomgate Brouhaha:

The meeting was between News-Press advertisers, recently fired reporters, and their Teamster reps and was intended to persuade advertisers to convince McCaw that it was in her best interest to negotiate with the reporters and return to ethical standards or journalism. The journalists had rented the room, but Millstein and accountant Norman Colavincenzo apparently busted in, loudly called the assembled journalists “liars,” and refused to leave, citing the fact that it was a public building. At least some of the News-Press advertisers were intimidated and left.

Keegan, who’s been trying to arrange a meeting between Millstein, McCaw, and the journalists for months to no avail, said to Millstein, “Now that you’re here, let’s talk.” Millstein then left, according to Keegan, who told the small group of advertisers that they had just witnessed the man who fired the reporters and the kind of threats and intimidation reporters are subject to.”

Daily Sound also had a similar report.

Thus, Newspress representatives crashed the meeting, interupted the Union meeting and called them Liars, and then refused to talk with the Union representatives once some of the participants left.

So I can bill $100 per hour at the government rate, what the PUBLIC in the public library provisions likely meant is that a meeting in the library could not exclude anyone because this is a public library after all, but that does not mean anyone can barge into the meeting and interrupt and hijack it, all as this Indy and other news accounts reported. Federal labor law also should trump the public-access provision to rent the meeting room as what defines a private Union meeting where the Employer is banned.

But in typical fashion, Newspress and its representatives make up a story and stick to it and do not let facts get in the way. Being a good lawyer on behalf of his client, Barry the C will argue whatever he thinks will stick, no matter how irrelevent or bad the argument may be if that is all he has to work with.

After all, their imagined facts still are that Marty Keegan lurks on Saturday night in the West Beach area just to intimidate.

Posted by First District Streetfighter | April 10, 2007 12:18 PM

Sorry, Barry. Labor law is a different beast than lender liability or even plaintiffs’ employment law. Just because the public can enter the public library does not give management license to intrude in a union meeting taking place there. Being technically able to enter a building according to the law regulating that building does not provide additional license to intimidate or intrude into people’s meetings. Nor for that matter, Barry, does issuing threats get a pass because they are issued through the media.

Similarly, the NLRB has long established the principle that even if management can observe public rallies, it cannot videotape or photograph them, because that adds the extra element of fear of reprisal, which has in fact had its intended intimidating effect. It also must be known that the NLRB doesn’t just take a case because the Union asks it to; it investigates, and in each and every one of these charges, it has sought and received the NP’s evidence and argument. Truth be told, the NLRB has dismissed or sought withdrawal of a few of the charges the union filed (and all the frivolous charges the NP filed), so contrary to the predictable spin from the NP, the NLRB doesn’t just accept everything the union presents. And speaking of the NP “just getting started”, we’ve heard that fairy tale before: “just wait for the facts to come out, and you’ll be singing a different tune.” Well, Judge Schmidt sang a pretty harsh tune to the NP: your case is FOS, and so are your chief prevaricating witnesses, Armstrong and Steepleton, not to mention “exaggerating” Huff, and “wildly inflated unreliable” McCandless.

Shotgun approach”? Yes, I suppose so, since the NP has trained its shotgun on the newsroom employees; nice analogy there, Bar. The union had little choice but to file charge after charge as the NP committed ULP after ULP. It adds up; it seemed for a while there that the NP was committing them so regularly just to bog down the process.

Bottom line, Cappello is a labor law ignoramus and a trial sharpshooter, and he may find that his aggression and “charm” that suit jury trials may backfire in front of an ALJ.

Posted by Anonymous | April 10, 2007 02:06 PM

The News-Press has yet to start.”

True, Barry. Can’t wait until Wendy McCaw is forced to the stand to testify under oath.

Posted by Anonymous | April 10, 2007 08:58 PM

Primary boycotts are legal, but the union needs to be careful with NP and “others” on the issue of secondary boycotts, which run afoul of labor law. Hint Hint

Posted by Susan | April 11, 2007 07:09 AM

Did anyone see this correction in the News-Press today?

Sunday’s News-Press reported on two Circuit City workers who are no longer employed by the company. The News-Press, along with most reputable members of the media, has a policy of always attempting to speak to both sides of any story. We tried in this case, but were not successful. The story, however, did not reflect those efforts as it should have.”

(I’ll skip the obvious joke that they seem to have a correction everyday since they have no real editors anymore or that their attempts were probably in vain because they don’t have any real reporters either.)

But here’s the rub: whereas the News-Press may try to present both sides of a story in the pieces that it covers as news, it’s glaring in the fact that it no longer covers many stories at all, especially their own employment fiasco, which is about as far from reputable as you can be.

Posted by Both sides ot the story? | April 11, 2007 08:46 AM

Susan, “secondary” boycotts (e.g., of advertisers) are also lawful if conducted in certain ways, and are definitely lawful for non-union people to participate in.

Posted by anonymous | April 12, 2007 06:31 AM

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