The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on December 14 upheld its original certification of the union election at the Santa Barbara News-Press, when employees voted to have the Teamsters Union represent them. The election was in September 2006; the News-Press’s objections and related court action delayed certification until August 2007, and in September the News-Press’s parent company, Ampersand Publishing, asked the NLRB to vacate the certification, presenting new evidence that the election was tainted by alleged misconduct on the part of union organizers. This new evidence, which did not surface until recently, consisted of a couple of emails from reporter Tom Schultz. In the first of these, Schultz exulted that union activists “rocked the house, crossed their wires and got em unglued” when they descended on publisher Wendy McCaw’s office with a letter demanding that she stop harassing union supporters. In the second email, Schultz added that “hearing loss … must be due to that sonic boom we created during that blitzkrieg through the newsroom.” These emails proved, Ampersand argued, that pro-union employees did indeed, as the publisher had asserted in its original objections to the certification, march through the building as “part of a campaign of physical intimidation and coercion … that destroyed the laboratory conditions necessary for a fair election,” according to the NLRB’s paraphrase of Ampersand’s argument.
The judge who heard Ampersand’s objections in the hearing before the emails were produced, William Schmidt, found that in fact that employees had “walked single file in a peaceful manner to McCaw’s office.” He also adjudged Schultz’s testimony about the walk to McCaw’s office “highly credible,” while the “extreme embellishments” in the testimony of Ampersand’s witnesses rendered it “unreliable.” Schmidt noted that although editor Travis Armstrong characterized the employees who walked to McCaw’s office as “storm troopers” he also conceded that there was no noise associated with their procession.
In rejecting Ampersand’s request to reconsider the certification based on Schultz’s emails, the panel wrote that the NLRB does not ordinarily reopen a record “so that a party may attack a judge’s credibility resolutions,” and that this case was no exception. “This board,” the panel wrote, “having considered the matter, denies the employer’s motion as lacking in merit.”
The upshot of the panel’s ruling, said Teamster’s attorney Ira Gottlieb, is that an obstacle has been removed from the continuing negotiations between the union and Ampersand, which last took place November 14. There has been “some exchange of proposals” at the bargaining table, said Gottlieb, “but there is a lot of ground still to cover.” Meanwhile, a decision is still months away on the unfair labor practices which the union alleges Ampersand engaged in: Attorneys from both sides finished filing briefs and responses to briefs describing and analyzing evidence presented in September before NLRB administrative law judge William Kocol.
Note: The date of certification has been corrected since the first version of this story was posted.