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‘Frightening & Intimidating

News-Press  Challenges Union Victory

by Nick Welsh

In the singular Perry Mason moment of the Santa Barbara
News-Press case against the Teamsters, embattled editorial page
editor Travis Armstrong on Tuesday all but accused lead Teamster
organizer Marty Keegan of stalking him. In a federal hearing room,
Armstrong testified he was the acting publisher at the time of the
suspicious incident publishers Wendy McCaw and Arthur Von
Wiesenberger having left for the Mediterranean — and that he was
having trouble sleeping. Armstrong recounted looking out his window
and seeing a man standing in front of an SUV across the street,
staring toward his apartment.

Armstrong said he hadn’t seen the man again until the court
proceedings, when he identified the late-night lookout as Keegan,
the Teamster organizer who spearheaded the union drive that
culminated in late September’s 33-6 newsroom vote in favor of
unionizing. During a break in the proceedings, Keegan denied
Armstrong’s accusation, stating, “I have no idea where he lives,
and until today, I had not ever laid eyes on the man.” Besides,
Keegan added, he drives a Chrysler Concorde, not an SUV. Keegan
said he was “shocked” by Armstrong’s accusation but dismissed it as
“street theater” calculated to undermine the credibility of the
Teamsters’ organizing drive.

Although the Teamsters won overwhelmingly and 95 percent of
eligible newsroom workers cast ballots — the election results have
not been certified because News-Press management has charged the
union and its newsroom supporters engaged in coercive and
intimidating behavior. This week’s legal proceeding — held under
the auspices of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) — aims to
evaluate the News-Press’s claims.

Specifically, the newspaper owners contend that the election
results were tainted because some editors and managers actively
supported the Teamsters; that the savethenewspress.com Web
site — operated and maintained by the Teamsters on behalf of the
News-Press union drive — falsely gave workers the impression that
the paper’s owners supported the union effort; that an employee’s
car bearing the News-Press masthead next to a pro-union bumper
sticker gave the same false impression; that union supporters in
the newsroom engaged in job actions that intimidated other workers,
such as marching en masse to Wendy McCaw’s office to deliver a
letter of demands; and finally, that an anonymous post on the
BlogaBarbara Web site threatening to inflict mayhem,
cyber-sabotage, and vandalism on the News-Press computer system and
newspaper racks created an atmosphere of such fear and intimidation
that a fair election was impossible.

Teamster attorney Ira Gottlieb noted that the News-Press had
already unsuccessfully filed three of the four allegations as
unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. In one of those
instances, the NLRB found the company’s two-day suspension of the
14 workers who marched to McCaw’s office constituted an unfair
labor practice. Gottlieb stated the union had no responsibility for
anonymous threats posted on the Web and argued that McCaw, knowing
she was going to lose the union election by a large margin, issued
a press release about the cyber threat just days before the
election even though the posting had occurred months earlier.
“We’re here today because of denial and delay,” Gottlieb
declared.

On the witness stand, Associate Editor Scott Steepleton and
Armstrong described union activists behaving like “a mob” or “storm
troopers.” Steepleton stood up twice to demonstrate their stomping
gait as they marched on McCaw’s office. When asked how he felt at
the time, Steepleton said, “Scared.

Intimidated,” though he later acknowledged he was never
personally threatened. When Human Resources Director Yolanda
Apodaca tried to relay complaints of union intimidation she’d heard
from two News-Press workers who demanded anonymity, Administrative
Law Judge William Schmidt — normally congenial — came unglued. “Are
you saying that some anonymous employee is going to come in and
testify that they were intimidated?” the judge demanded. “Not in my
hearing room. This is not a star chamber. No. This hearing room is
about due process.”

At the end of the day, Gottlieb moved to have all charges
dismissed outright, arguing the News-Press failed to meet its
burden of proof. While Judge Schmidt agreed some of the charges
against the union seemed notably thin — supervisorial interference
in particular — he said he was inclined to give the allegations of
intimidating behavior greater scrutiny before rendering a
decision.

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