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UPDATED: Who’s the Queen of the May?

More Heads Roll at the News-Press


Layoff Dispute at NP: Layoff of a temporary Santa Barbara News-Press sports staffer Friday, May 2 — the 10th employee to get the ax since Thursday — brought a hot protest from the fledgling newsroom union.

Kyle Jahner, a 2007 USC grad and rugby player hired last July, was given the pink slip, but union officials say it was illegally done.

Jahner, although “temporary,” is really part of the union bargaining unit and under the law can’t be unilaterally terminated “without bargaining over the layoff and seeking the two weeks of pay he would be entitled to as a remedy for the failure to bargain under the law,” said union spokeswoman Dawn Hobbs, NP courts reporter until she was fired last year for union activity, an action a judge has ruled was illegal. Hobbs still remains out of work pending a NP appeal.

The layoff came after a Teamsters negotiator sent News-Press negotiator Michael Zinser and attorney Barry Cappello a letter Friday morning demanding that the paper notify the union of any planned layoff of union members, including temporary workers performing newsroom duties, Hobbs said. None of the nine employees axed Thursday were in the union.

We have not heard one single word back” from either Zinser or Cappello, she said late Friday afternoon. The Independent was unable to reach Cappello for comment Friday.

We filed an unfair labor practice charge in November on behalf of all the temporary employees in an attempt to bring them into the union” because they are doing the work of union members, were hired in a management attempt to keep the bargaining union artificially small, and they appear to be there long term,” Hobbs said. The charge is still pending with the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, she said.

After the surprise round of layoffs, “the remaining News-Press employees have been working in a climate of horrendous fear the last two days,” Hobbs said. “Everyone is stunned, stressed out – and now, once again, constantly looking over their shoulder. No one inside is buying the company’s line that the union should be faulted for the layoffs.”

News-Press owner Wendy McCaw claimed Thursday that the layoffs were required because of the general condition of the industry — the paper’s circulation dropped seven percent in the year ending March 31 — and effects of battling unionization.

If new circulation figures to be announced in six months are down again, as seems likely, will they result in another round of bloodletting?

And six months after that, another round of layoffs, and six months later more? Today, the News-Press is a pathetic skeleton of what it was when the meltdown began in July, 2006. So with some of the best people in advertising, circulation, sports and other departments given the heave-ho, can we expect new readers to suddenly rush to subscribe?

Sports editor Barry Punzal, cut after 25 years and well-known in the local sports community, is a loss that will be felt at schools and families. His departure will surely be a blow to the paper on a par to the firing last year of longtime sports columnist John Zant, now a columnist for the Independent.

Newspapers are not, in the final analysis, published by machines and computers. Good ones have people dedicated not only to their craft and ethics but to the community they serve. They don’t work by the clock or just go through the motions. From the feedback I’m getting, this round of layoffs will not only strip the paper of valuable employees but result in new subscription cancellations by readers outraged by the cuts of people like Punzal.

One of those laid off declined to be identified but said he felt that the departed ones were among the best at their jobs. He declined to be quoted by name for fear of legal action against him by McCaw. His neighbor, he said, canceled his subscription as a result.

According to reliable sources, here are the names of nine News-Press employees led to the guillotine Thursday: Sports editor Barry Punzal, 25 years at the paper; Bob Klinger, photo ad services, 28 years; Life department editor Mindy Spar, hired since the July, 2006 staff meltdown; Tomasa Moran, accounting; Jobe Elkins, ad services; Jennifer Engriser, paid obits and other duties; Eleana Villenueva, retail advertising; Greg, last name not known, ad services; Mimi Mork, circulation.

The memo from McCaw and co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger blamed the “onslaught of tactics” used by the Teamsters unionization effort. Rather than negotiate with the newsroom employees who voted to form a union after editors, including executive editor Jerry Roberts, and myself quit, McCaw has spent nearly two years and untold amounts of money, estimated by some in the millions, to fight, even after National Labor Relations Commission judge ruled against her after she fired a group of union activist reports, contrary to law.

Few other business owners would run their enterprises into the ground in what so far has been a losing battle for all concerned, including the tragic decline in what was a prize-winning newspaper.

Target Coming?: When I queried officials at Target national headquarters in Minneapolis about rumors that the chain might be locating a store in Goleta, I was told by spokeswoman Anna Goeppinger that “We are extremely interested in the Santa Barbara-Goleta area. At this time, it would be premature to discuss further specifics.”

No plans have been submitted to the city of Goleta,” City Council member Roger Aceves e-mailed me. “We have sites available and the public sure wants one; just have to wait and see. In the time being we travel to Ventura at four bucks a gallon.”

Speculation has it that Target might be planning to build a store at Hollister Avenue and Storke Road, across from the Camino Real Marketplace. A few years ago there was a proposal for Target to locate on city of Santa Barbara airport property but that got shot down. If the retailer locates at Storke and Hollister, the new city of Goleta will get the sales taxes, which would amount to a pretty penny. The deal would also gladden the hearts of many a shopper.

Sign Stealers: You wouldn’t think that a candidate for Superior Court judge would be a victim of campaign sign theft, but that’s just what Kevin Ready is complaining about. “Our campaign has had multiple cases of campaign sign vandalism, most recently in Orcutt and on San Marcos Pass,” Ready says. “All of our signs go up with property owner’s permission, contrary to other campaigns, whose sign placement practices are obvious to any observer. The vandalism seems to be focused on a certain candidates, leaving others unscathed.” An Orcutt resident called him Thursday to report that politico-vandals dumped his missing signs on her property, along with those of other campaigns. (Another dirty trick. If you see anyone doing this, call 911. But I gather that these rats sneak around at night.)

Jugglers Delight: Jugglers are coming from far and near for the 32nd Isla Vista Jugglers Festival & Vaudeville Show. Jugglers will perform today, May 2, and Sunday at UCSB’s Robertson Gym. The vaudeville show will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the I.V. Theater. Proceeds go to the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center. The festival celebrates the life of UCSB student a juggler Patty Laney, who was raped and murdered in 1977. Friends then organized the first festival.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or (805) 965-5205. He writes online columns Tuesdays and Fridays and a print column for Thursdays

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