How do you get your message out to thousands of people at once? Hang a banner on 101 for all the morning commuters to see!
That's exactly what some current and former employees of the News-Press newsroom did on Friday morning at about 7:30 a.m. They traveled with banners and signs to the top of the Anapamu Street footbridge, and let their flags fly for nearly an hour, urging commuters to cancel their subscriptions to the News-Press and calling for the illegal firings to stop. (The firings are considered by the newsroom to be illegal because they appear to be directly related to the terminated employees' involvement in the drive to unionize, which was approved by employees 33-6 last September. The vote's verification, which was challenged by N-P management last month in court, is currently under review by the National Labor Relations Board.)
The move was triggered by last week's firing of reporter Anna Davison, explained Melinda Burns, who was also fired last October for her union involvement and is fighting to get her job back. While Burns knows that thousands have already cancelled their subscriptions in support of the newsroom, she is hoping that this morning's exercise will remind others to do the same.
"We would just like people who are still subscribing to the News-Press that the situation is terrible, just terrible," explained an audibly exasperated Burns. "We don't know who's going to be next. This has to stop. These are illegal firings and Wendy McCaw is breaking the law by retaliating against the people who are trying to form a union." Burns described the firing of her and her colleagues as "a campaign in the newsroom to strike fear into the hearts" of the employees, who have already had to restrict their free speech by removing buttons and placards in their cars that say "Wendy McCaw: Obey the Law."
Burns said that she's aware many people think that Santa Barbara is not a "union town," but she explains that there is no other choice for the newsroom. "We absolutely have to have a union at the News-Press in order to ensure that we can do our jobs without interference," said Burns. "We see a contract as an instrument for us, because we have to be able to put it in writing and safeguard our profession and our ability to be professionals. That's what this is all about -- freedom of the press, freedom of speech....We feel that our profession is under attack at the Santa Barbara News-Press and we're trying to defend it by getting a union contract. I defy anybody to come up with a better idea. We gotta have it in writing."
So, said Burns, "We're asking the public to help us and to get the community its paper back by cancelling their subscriptions."