Reporter Anna Davison, one of nine former News-Press employees allegedly fired for union activity, suffered the slings and arrows of Ampersand Publishing’s lead attorney, Barry Cappello all afternoon today.
Cappello said Davison was fired not for her union activity but for poor job performance. To support this position, Cappello brought out some less-than-glowing comments from recent job evaluations, in particular criticism that she spent too much time walking around the newsroom talking to other reporters. Mostly, though, Cappello grilled Davison on the research she did for “Walk This Way,” a January 2007 article on the State Street Beautification Project whose bias was the main reason management gave for terminating her on January 25. Cappello characterized the piece as slanted in favor of removing a half-dozen street trees, deliberately undercutting a previous News-Press editorial against the tree removal, titled “Butchering State Street.”
Most of Davison’s article was devoted to the project at large, especially the replacement of the slippery tile sidewalks. However, it did note that “as part of the effort, several street trees are being cut down or moved, to the chagrin of some locals.” Davison’s bias revealed itself, according to Cappello, in that she did not actually name or quote any of said locals, whereas she did quote city officials describing the landscaping that would replace the trees. Much of the afternoon was spent going over steps Davison took-or didn’t take-to locate people who lamented the loss of the trees. When nobody she interviewed on the street expressed those sentiments, he asked, why had she not asked editorial page editor Travis Armstrong for the names of people who might have written letters to the editor about it? “Wasn’t it because of your animus toward Mr. Armstrong?” Cappello demanded. Davison disagreed, saying it would not have been a standard thing to do, and adding that she “didn’t want to tap into letters to the editor chosen for publication as representative.” “Because you didn’t want to find people against it,” insisted Cappello. “I wanted to do my own research,” Davison said.
Cappello also implied that Davison was negligent in not either quoting the editorial itself or contacting publishers Wendy McCaw and Arthur Von Wiesenberger for links to people who shared their views as reflected in their “Butchering State Street” editorial. In Davison’s decision to quote Marty Blum, despite the Mayor’s long history of engaging in verbal warfare with editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, Cappello found further evidence of Davison’s hostility toward her employer. Blum praised the State Street Beautification Project. Davison said that she called the Botanic Garden and Santa Barbara Beautiful seeking their opinion on tree-removal, but by deadline had not received a return call from either of them.
To counter the allegation that the News-Press discriminated against these employees for participating in legally protected union activity, Cappello had Davison identify from published photographs half a dozen others who were not fired by the News-Press despite their documented participation in union rallies and their wearing of “McCaw, Obey the Law” T-Shirts.
The NLRB is seeking reinstatement of all of the fired employees, with back pay plus interest and all benefits retroactively applied. Even were the judge to decide that the workers were fired for union activity, however, Cappello claimed that if he can show that “either before or after they were terminated, they made statements of dislike or disparagement of the product, they should not have to be hired back.”
On Friday, September 7, the NLRB is scheduled to call union organizer Dawn Hobbs, among others.