We are two of the eight reporters who were unjustly fired more than six years ago for union organizing at the Santa Barbara News-Press in California. We won sweeping rulings for our reinstatement and back pay at the trial-court level and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), but we lost in the District of Columbia Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the land.
After much agonizing, we have decided not to appeal our case to the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s no way around it: The Republican majority on the court is hostile to unions, and we can’t risk cementing a bad ruling in stone. The D.C. appeals court unfairly ignored 70 years of labor law and its own precedent to side with Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire News-Press owner. The three judges who heard our case, all of them appointees of former presidents Ronald Reagan and H.W. Bush, absurdly found that we reporters were trying to control the content of the paper, in violation of McCaw’s First Amendment rights. But the facts of the case clearly show that McCaw fired us only after the newsroom voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters and after we organized a boycott of the paper to press for a fair employment contract.
Although our case has ended bitterly, our colleagues from the News-Press are still trying to win that contract. Two Teamster lawsuits against McCaw are still pending. In one of them, the NLRB ruled that McCaw was guilty of bad-faith bargaining and ordered her to pay all of the union’s expenses from Day One of negotiations. McCaw has appealed that case to the D.C. court. Now, both of the pending cases are expected to be on hold while the Supreme Court reviews the legality of President Barack Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB.
If you haven’t already done so, please join the thousands of former News-Press readers who have quit the paper in protest and are never going back. McCaw may have won in court, but on the ground, she has lost everything that matters — her reputation, her credibility, her readers, and the goodwill of her community. We are very grateful for your support over the years — the petitions you signed, the blogs you created, the rallies you came to, the events you organized, the articles you wrote, the speeches you gave, the ads you pulled, and the money you raised to help us make ends meet. Every day that we went out in public with a poster or a leaflet, you told us, “We’re behind you.”
We are also grateful to the Teamsters, who continue to back the newsroom in contract negotiations and in court, spending more than half a million dollars to date. McCaw, surely one of the most blatantly anti-labor employers in the country, has hired nine law firms to try to defeat the union.
The fight for justice at the News-Press is one of the great Santa Barbara stories of our time, and we’re proud to have been part of it. If we ever have grandchildren, we will tell them about the wonderful jobs we had once, covering the news for one of the best dailies of its size in the country. We’ll tell them, “Never forget how the people of Santa Barbara stood up for the reporters who were wronged.”
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Melinda Burns is a former News-Press senior writer and 21-year veteran of the paper; Dawn Hobbs was the News-Press crime and court reporter for nine years.