The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has upped the ante in its ruling against the Santa Barbara News-Press. Since the News-Press seeks to appeal the decision by NLRB Administrative Judge William G. Kocol ordering the reinstatement and payment of back pay of the eight employees fired in January, 2007, the NLRB has deemed it necessary to file an action against the paper at the United States District Court for the Central District of California in hopes of having the previous order enforced immediately.
“Sometimes unfair labor practices are so egregious that if you waited until the administrative process was completed, the damage to the employees would be too severe,” said Ira Gottlieb, the attorney representing the International Brotherhood of Teamsters-the union representing News-Press employees. “They could potentially be sitting there waiting for years.”
After 17 days of testimony last fall, Kocol found on December 26, 2007, that the News-Press had perpetrated “flagrant” illegal anti-union acts in the firing of the eight workers, and in the way that it had disciplined others. Citing discriminatory evaluations, unlawful disciplinary threats, surveillance of employees and demands that they not wear pro-union buttons, he wrote that their acts against their employees showed a “widespread, general disregard for the fundamental rights of the employees.” He ruled that the eight fired employees-Melinda Burns, Anna Davidson, Tom Schultz, Dawn Hobbs, Melissa Evans, John Zant, Barney McManigal, and Rob Kuznia-be immediately reinstated and paid all back pay. Furthermore, Kocol ruled that Scott Steepleton-the News-Press’s chief witness and one who had participated in many of the actions in question-was a non-credible witness.
The News-Press countered that their actions were not related to employees’ union affiliation, and refused to reinstate or pay the employees, citing a desire to appeal the decision. Barry Capello-representing the News-Press in the proceedings-stated that they were “properly terminated for acts of disloyalty.” Paper owner Wendy McCaw and some of her managers had testified that two of the employees were fired due to biased reporting, and the other six for hanging a banner from a pedestrian bridge over the freeway reading, “Cancel Your Newspaper Today!”
The controversy all started in July of 2006, when a slew of top editors walked off the job, complaining that McCaw was trying to exert undue interference in news coverage. McCaw claimed that she was removing bias, and that the editors quit because she had stopped them from inserting their personal opinions into the paper. The result was that the employees in the newsroom voted to unionize. The employees’ representation by the Teamsters’ Union was certified by the NLRB, but McCaw has fought the decision bitterly since it was made.
Today, facing the dragging heals of the News-Press in the reinstatement and financial restitution of the eight terminated employees, the NLRB sought interim relief for them. According to Gottlieb, the Federal District Court judge-an Article III presidential appointee-has more weight to throw into getting News-Press leadership to comply with the earlier ruling. A hearing is scheduled at the Federal Court in Los Angeles on Monday afternoon, but the outcome is uncertain. “I don’t know what the judge is going to do,” said Gottlieb. “He could say yes, he could say no, or he could continue it to a later date. Technically, the union is not a participant in this, but the judge ordered all parties to show up.”
Capello was unavailable for comment.