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News-Press Lays Off Another One

Patrick Windmiller 11th Employee Out the Door in Two Weeks


Another News-Press Layoff: Patrick Windmiller, a key computer technology worker at the Santa Barbara News-Press, was laid off Wednesday, May 15, the 11th employee to get the ax in the past two weeks.

The ouster of Windmiller, an eight-year employee, was seen as especially damaging to the paper because he was an expert in dealing with the News-Press‘s network of Mac computers, vital to putting out the paper.

Windmiller said management told him that he was being terminated because of the need to cut costs due to the newsroom union, but his replacement took over the same day Windmiller was given notice, with a different title but doing the same job. Windmiller said his termination came as a surprise because he had been assured that his job was safe.

On the Beat

Windmiller “was probably the only one who knew how to deal with the Mac computer system,” one former employee said.

Meanwhile, the newsroom union’s chief negotiator has told newsroom employees that “it is not too late to turn things around” at the slumping News-Press if owner-publisher Wendy McCaw wanted to do that instead of “fight every fight.”

The Teamsters-affiliated newsroom union is willing “to work collaboratively if the sentiment is reciprocated,” but McCaw “refuses to accept any responsibility for the continued decline of readers and revenue at the Santa Barbara News-Press that she claims has forced her to lay off employees,” Teamster representative Nicholas Caruso wrote in a letter to newsroom employees this week.

The recent layoff(s) further depletes the pool of experienced, competent staff,” Caruso said. “Unfortunately, the publisher has not shown the least bit of interest in trying to reach an agreement that would address employees’ concerns.”

Contract negotiations resumed this week after months of glacial progress. “We have been at the negotiating table for six months with no tangible results,” illegally fired reporter Melinda Burns told a group last week.

Last year, Caruso pointed out, at the “time of the unlawful firings of six newsroom employees, the News-Press claimed that ‘The paper is doing fine. In fact, it is doing much better since the changes in the newsroom.’”

But now McCaw is blaming the circulation drop (seven percent in the last year) on the union for calling for readers to cancel subscriptions, Caruso said. Actually, there have been no rallies or press conferences urging cancellations since negotiations began, according to Caruso.

What appears to be obvious to everyone but the publisher,” Caruso said, “is that many of the misfortunes at the (paper) appear to be the result of mismanagement at the top.”

While McCaw attributed the recent layoffs in part to the costs of litigation related to unionization, Caruso replied that McCaw’s recent letter to employees “fails to mention that much of her legal expenses are related to taking, or threatening to take, legal action against anyone and everyone who opposes her viewpoints, including local businesses, authors of articles critical of how she runs her newspaper, and competitor publications.”

News-Press attorney Barry Cappello replied to the Independent today: The letter “is another example of how the Teamsters have misled our employees, the journalists that follow this drivel, and the citizens that have mistakenly been led to believe it.

The courts will set the facts and the law; not the Teamsters, not the NLRB (National Labor Relations Commission) staff; it is the justice system that works,” Cappello said. “It may take time, but in the end the News-Press will stand with the ultimate decisions made in the judicial process. We will not be intimidated by a union who today still is monitored by the U.S. Justice Department and the federal courts because of its long and sordid history of breaking the law.”

Replied Teamster attorney Ira Gottlieb, “All through this process, Mr. Cappello has been long on bluster and grandstanding, and short on facts and law, especially labor law. Mr. Kelley (Dugan Kelley, from Cappello’s law firm) who has been sitting mostly silent at the table the last few sessions, regurgitated similar inane twattle yesterday, to no effect. The law and the collective bargaining process does offer the reporters some protection from the worst depredations of a management crew that apparently is — quite self-destructively — not interested in collaboration in an inherently collaborative enterprise, and not interested in bargaining in good faith, and that protection is what we have been seeking and will continue to seek, at all times within the bounds of the applicable law — unlike the News-Press, which does not seem to believe itself to be so bound.

Furthermore, while Mr. Cappello and his client like to divert attention from the issues at hand by speaking of the Teamsters’ ancient history, it is no coincidence that all of the [News-Press] charges against the union since this campaign began have been dismissed without even the need for a hearing, and its bogus election objections were thoroughly rejected amid a hail of criticism of the lack of credibility of the NP‘s chief witnesses and even their legal representatives. Thus far, by contrast, the [NLRB] has seen a great deal of merit to the union’s charges and recognizes the egregious nature of the News-Press‘s repressive tactics, since it has taken the rare step of attempting to obtain interim relief in court while the administrative process is ongoing.”

Wendy Nicked for $140,000: Employees who worked at the News-Press during the past five years will share in a $140,000 class action lawsuit involving unpaid overtime and vacation pay, according to Santa Barbara lawyer Bruce Anticouni.

The employees will be receiving claim forms in the next few weeks where they can indicate their times of service, which in turn will determine their share of the settlement ordered by Superior Court Judge James Brown, Anticouni told the Independent. Because the News-Press lacked records relating to forfeited vacations and an improper policy involving comp time instead of overtime pay, anyone who worked there during that time period will share, the lawyer said.

In addition, any employee who has documents showing that he or she had substantial overtime can opt instead to have an individual case and should call the law office at 962-0467, he said.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or (805) 965-5205. His regular online columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays and his print column on Thursdays.

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