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NLRB Round One, Part Two

Yolanda Apodaca, Travis Armstrong, and Former N-P
Supervisors Take Stand

With Nick Welsh

The National Labor Relations Board hearing over the
News-Press management’s objections to the September 2006
vote to unionize continued after the Tuesday’s lunch break with
testimony from opinion page editor Travis
Armstrong
, human resources director Yolanda
Apodaca
, and former News-Press supervisors
Dale Myers, Andrea Huebner, Don Murphy , and Jane
Hulse
. (Click here for a full run-down of the day’s earlier
proceeding, which was primarily testimony from Scott
Steepleton.
)

First to the stand was the newspaper’s editorial page editor
Travis Armstrong. In what amounted to the
trial’s closest thing to a Perry Mason moment, Armstrong accused
Marty Keegan, the lead Teamster organizer, of
all but stalking him, late one night even lurking in the street
outside Armstrong’s apartment last summer. Armstrong testified he
was the acting publisher at the time — Wendy McCaw and Arthur von
Wiesenberger were vacationing on the Mediteranean — and that he was
having trouble sleeping. When he looked out his window, he said he
saw a man across the street near an SUV staring at his apartment.
Armstrong said he hadn’t seen the man before, but now that he was
in court, he could identify the stalker as Keegan.

During a break in the proceedings, Keegan denied Travis’
accusation, stating, “I have no idea where he lives and until
today, this is the first time I ever laid eyes on the man.” 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.

On the witness stand, Armstrong was as softspoken and diffident
in person as he is outspoken and acerbic in print. Most of his
testimony dwelt on how he’d felt intimidated and threatened during
the labor strife engulfing the News-Press, and how he’d
been sworn at and reviled by News-Press workers.

Armstrong cited two specific incidents that were especially
frightening. The first took place on July 13, when a group of
newsroom workers first filed into his office en masse with a letter
demanding that he reinstate the five high-ranking editors who quit
on July 6. Armstrong described the small gathering as threatening
and intimidating, so he asked that they leave. They declined to do
so, he testified, until they delivered the letter.

“I couldn’t have gotten out if I wanted,” he said, adding that
while the whole event took less than five minutes, “It felt like an
eternity.” Under cross examination by Teamster attorney Ira Gottlieb, Armstrong conceded that he sought
no disciplinary action against the workers who barged into his
office.

Armstrong also detailed how he’d been cursed at by former Metro
Editor Jane Hulse, who repeatedly spat, “Fuck you, Travis,” at him
as he escorted former Editor-in-Chief Jerry Roberts out of the building on July 6. He
described Hulse as “hysterical,” saying “she lost it,” and added
that reporter Dawn Hobbs and columnist Starshine Roshell had similarly reviled him.

Armstrong also buttressed Steepleton’s “mob”-like description of
the August 24 march of newsroom workers from Hobbs desk to Wendy
McCaw’s office. He likened them to “strorm troopers,” insisting
they “marched” down the hall rather than walked. This assemblage of
workers — described variously in number from 14 to 25 — had hoped
to deliver a letter to McCaw, who had returned from her summer
vacation by then and had resumed her duties as publisher. The
letter demanded that she meet with them and a delegation of
community leaders to discuss the melt-down at the
News-Press. Not long afterwards, at least 14 newsroom
workers who participated in this late afternoon rally received
disciplinary notices that they’d been suspended for two days.
Ultimately, however, those “sentences” were never carried out.

The paper’s human resources director Yolanda Apodaca (pictured) was far less dramatic
in her recital of the events of August 24. Yolanda%20Apodaca.jpg Under cross-examination from Gottlieb,
she conceded that she’d agreed to convey the letter to McCaw, and
for her efforts received an e-mail from pro-union reporter
Tom Schultz thanking her. She responded with an
e-mail of her own, telling Schultz he was welcome. Because she
misspelled the word “welcome,” Apodaca wrote Schultz four days
later, repeating that he was welcome. On the witness stand, she
said she was thanking him for his good manners.

Apodaca’s testimony appeared to help the union far more than the
News-Press. She described under cross-examination, for
example, how Schultz had e-mailed her describing how he had removed
the paper’s masthead from the pro-union montage of bumper stickers
displayed in the back window of his car. One of the
News-Press management’s four objections was that the
placement of that masthead next to a pro-union bumper sticker and a
SavetheNewsPress.com bumper sticker, Schultz was
somehow intimating that News-Press management was
supporting the union drive. But Apodaca acknowledged that Schultz
notified her that he’d removed the offending masthead by August 10.
Not coincidentally, that was the same date the Teamsters filed a
petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking a union
election. How could the pro-union message Schultz was making with
his car taint the election if he removed it?, asked union attorney
Gottlieb.

On the witness stand, Apodaca (pictured with Scott Steepleton)
was exceptionally low-key, Steelpeton%20Apodaca.jpg but when News-Press attorney
Sandra McCandless asked Apodaca to relate complaints made to her by
unnamed News-Press workers, the polka-dot-bow-tied
administrative law judge William L. Schmidt 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,” he answered. “This is not a star chamber. No. This hearing
room is about due process.”

Bring on the Supes

One of the News-Press’ key allegations is that the
union election was corrupted by newsroom supervisors who allegedly
championed the union cause. None of the witnesses the
News-Press presented in this regard were very compelling.
Did they voice pro-union sympathies? Yes, but for most it was only
after they’d resigned from their positions at the paper and were no
longer in a position of potentially coercive authority.

One glaring exception was Dale Myers, who served as assistant
city editor, though only for two months before being fired.
(Earlier in the day, N-P attorneys cited this photograph from The Indy as evidence or
his pro-union involvement.) Unapologetically pro-union in his
sympathies, Myers readily admitted he supported the union and
declined management instructions that he work to defeat the union
drive. He also admitted he attended several rallies in De la Guerra
Plaza that were sympathetic to the union cause. [CORRECTION: Myers,
in fact, resigned, and only attended one rally.] To the extent that
Myers discussed the union with reporters and copy editors, he said
they invariably initiated the conversation first and told him what
was happening, not the other way around

Next up was former Life page editor Andrea Huebner, who was fired by Scott
Steepleton (pictured). Steepleton.jpg With precise and clear testimony,
Huebner easily deflected N-P attorney Sandra McCandless’
allegations of impropriety. Yes, Huebner admitted to being at a
pro-union rally, but only as a spectator and a mentor to an intern
who had been assigned to cover the story by Steepleton. She proved
a strong witness for the union’s case, explaining that she strayed
from discussing unionization with employees. As well, she denied
that the employees “stomped” their way to McCaw’s office, as
Steepleton and Armstrong claimed.

Following Huebner’s testimony came Don Murphy, the paper’s
former deputy managing editor and an employee for nearly 20 years.
Sporting his white hair in a tight full-head buzz, Murphy admitted
to chatting about unions with former N-P columnist
Starshine Roshell on the loading dock. The nature of
the conversation? Murphy said that he thought he was leaving and
that employees who decided to stay would do well to look into union
representation. That was the most damning thing offered by Murphy,
who continued to go to union-related functions after he quit. Judge
Schmidt did not care about post-employment involvement, however,
because it had nothing to do with the objections.

The judge did try to clarify the nature of the “turmoil” at the
office that every witness attested to. Judge Schmidt asked whether
the story killed about Rob Lowe was the only reason
there was tension and concern in the newsroom. Murphy replied,
“There were other things going on.” Neither attorney jumped at the
chance to further investigate that answer, though it seems that the
Teamsters may have been able to elicit some interesting testimony
had they done so.

After Murphy came the entirely lackluster questioning of Jane
Hulse (whose married last name is Chawkins.) Apparently, these NLRB
hearings lack the discovery phase of typical legal showdowns,
because Sandra McCandless was clearly fishing for some evidence
that Hulse talked about unions with the employees she supervised.
nlrb.jpg Hulse denied all of that, which prompted the
judge to question what point McCandless and company were trying to
prove. The judge even cited a Frontline program about a
Wal-Mart manager who is leading the unionization of his employees,
and how not even that is much cause for concern for the NLRB.

To that, attorney David Millstein responded that this was a
different case because the employees were asking for their old
bosses back. That “reeks of collusion,” argued Millstein. “I know
what you’re saying,” replied Judge Schmidt, a casual, competent
overseer with a clear understanding of labor law, “but it doesn’t
knock me down, yet.” McCandless and Millstein then rested their
case.

Motioning to Dismiss

As expected, Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb took the resting of
the News-Press as a chance to present a motion to dismiss
the objections outright. A few sentences into his oration, Gottlieb
echoed most everyone in the courtroom when he asked, “Is that all
there is?” He argued that not a single employee was called to
testify about intimidation and that it was just insult to injury
for the N-P‘s lawyers to claim that the employees were
“dupes” and “gullible” enough to not realize that the newspaper’s
management was against the union. Motions to dismiss are rarely
granted in any type of case, but there were good odds Tuesday
afternoon that this judge might see fit to do so. No matter what
side one supports, there was very little evidence presented, and
the case against the union and against the overwhelmingly pro-union
staff was quite weak.

Nonetheless, Judge Schmidt said that he didn’t want to make a
quick decision in this case because he needed to take “quite
seriously” the matters about the Blogabarbara
threat and the SavetheNewsPress.com website. Yet in doing so, he also
seemed to be confused about the objection, because he kept
referring to matters of “employee loyalty” and how his opinion
about it differed from the NLRB’s. Gottlieb tried to explain as
much, and say that the objection did not pertain to what the judge
was discussing, but the matter was left unresolved.

Although he didn’t officially throw out half of the objections,
Judge Schmidt did express his distaste for the two objections
related to supervisor involvement and the intimidating march. “If
that was all there was to the case,” he said, “I would stop it
right now.”

With that, the hearing was adjourned for the day, with the case
starting up again with the Teamsters witnesses tomorrow morning at
9 a.m.

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