In a long-awaited decision, the National Labor Relations Board today ordered the Santa Barbara News-Press to reinstate eight reporters the paper illegally fired for union activities. They are: John Zant, Melinda Burns, Anna Davison, Tom Schultz, Melissa Evans, Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal, and Dawn Hobbs.
The NLRB gave the paper 14 days to comply, but the embattled daily announced this afternoon its decision to appeal. News-Press owner Wendy McCaw has contended that she was within her rights to fire the reporters because their activities related to editorial content, not wages.
The NLRB also ordered back pay for the eight fired reporters and told the News-Press to rescind its letters of suspension to former newsroom employees Al Bonowitz, Kim Favors, Kuznia, Lara Milton, Mike Traphagen, Hobbs, Schultz, George Hutti, McManigal, and Alan McCabe, and present worker Karna Hughes. A previous judge’s order found the paper guilty of a labor law violation in the termination of then-columnist Richard Mineards. Now a columnist for the Montecito Journal, Mineards commented that because of the extended time while his case was being appealed by McCaw, he stands to collect a major check when the case is settled in his favor.
The NLRB board in Washington affirmed Administrative Judge William Kocol’s 2007 ruling that the reporters were illegally fired. The board also affirmed his findings that the News-Press violated federal labor law by threatening employees with discipline for engaging in protected union activity by discharging newsroom employee Bob Guilliano for refusing to commit an unfair labor practice; by engaging in surveillance of employees’ protected union activity; issuing letters of suspension for engaging in union activity; canceling Starshine Roshell’s column for discriminatory reasons; and giving lower evaluations to employees because of their support for the union.
Ironically, today’s NLRB ruling came at a time when News-Press newsroom employees were at the DoubleTree Resort attempting to negotiate a contract with McCaw’s hired consultants; a previous judge had ruled that the paper had engaged in bad-faith negotiations through several years of stonewalled negotiations.
Two reporters who led the union battle, Dawn Hobbs and Melinda Burns, told The Independent that, “We look forward to returning to the newsroom and hope that Wendy McCaw will abide by the decision.” Said Burns: “We are delighted that the labor board has ruled so strongly in our favor. It was a unanimous (3-0) bipartisan decision.”
Other serious labor law violation rulings by NLRB judges are also pending before the full NLRB board, she said. “We have a continuing boycott, and urge people to cancel their subscriptions. Please don’t buy, read, or advertise in the News-Press until McCaw obeys the law and signs a fair contract.” Hobbs lauded the “very strong decision” about “retaliatory conduct against us for exercising our rights to join a union and seek protection through a fair employment contract.”
News-Press attorney Michael Zinser told The Independent that the paper has always felt that the case would be decided at the federal court of appeals level and the News-Press would be “vindicated” because of “improper motivation” on the part of the journalists. That, he said, was because “they wanted to take over the content of the paper.”
“We are not surprised” by the NLRB “rubber-stamp” decision because of the political situation in Washington, said Zinser, apparently referring to the Democratic administration and appointment of Democrats to fill long-vacant seats on the NLRB board.
Don Katich, News-Press Director of News Operations, released a prepared statement in response to the ruling. “The decision of the NLRB is not unexpected,” it reads. “This is just another decision of the current National Labor Relations Board in its assaults on businesses in the United States of America.”
“In every instance so far, when Santa Barbara News-Press has been in the federal court system, it has prevailed over the National Labor Relations Board and the Teamsters Union. Santa Barbara News-Press fully expects to prevail again.”