News-Press Bloodletting Intensifies


Six More Writers Are Fired, Leaving Three in Newsroom

by Martha Sadler

A week after reporter Anna Davison was fired, a half-dozen of
her colleagues went before work to the Anapamu Street pedestrian
bridge above Highway 101, holding a banner over the side that read,
“Cancel your newspaper today!” That was on the morning of Friday,
February 2. The following Monday, reporters Dawn Hobbs, Rob Kuznia,
and Barney McManigal were called one by one into a conference room
where associate editor Scott Steepleton and an attorney asked
whether they had taken part in the banner display. Each answered
yes and was handed a brief letter explaining that they were being
terminated for disloyalty.

Up in the newsroom, a fourth reporter — religion writer Melissa
Evans, who had also participated in the overpass action — saw what
was happening. She finished the story she was writing — about a
Chinese version of a play about Martin Luther King Jr. — with the
famous King quote, “Thank God almighty, we’re free at last,” and
waited for her turn to be called.

Evans was not fired that evening, but she did receive an early
morning call from a friend tipping her off to the fact that her
computer was being removed — a sobering and silent process,
repeated each time an employee leaves, that according to police
reporter Hobbs resembles a coroner’s removal of a body from a
murder scene. Arriving at work at her usual time, Evans discovered
that her key card no longer opened the door, and when she was
admitted to the Santa Barbara News-Press building, it was
only to be fired along with reporter Tom Schultz and sports
columnist John Zant, both of whom had also participated in the
overpass demonstration. Zant had worked at the News-Press
for 38 years.

That brings to 37 the number of writers, editors, production,
and business staff who have left since last July, when
disagreements over editorial content and managerial style erupted
in the first wave of firings and resignations, many of which were
followed by court battles over union organizing activities. The
total includes advertising director and union supporter Sarah
Sinclair, who quit Monday night at about the same time that the
reporters were fired. A total of 17 news reporters have been
terminated, two of whom had been hired since the July implosion. At
Indy press time, the only reporters still on staff were Nora
Wallace, who reports on the North County; business writer Maria
Zate; and Leana Orsua, a recent hire.

The firings came as a shock, if not a huge surprise, to the six
writers, who said they met before the demonstration to make sure
that they stayed within the bounds of federal labor law. “In
pursuit of a labor objective, employees have the right and the
privilege to inflict economic harm on their employer,” said
Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb, who noted that such actions are
protected as long as they are performed peacefully. The banner
display was intended, in part, to pressure McCaw into recognizing
the employees’ 33-6 vote in favor of joining the Teamsters union,
which McCaw has refused to do on the ground that organizers
allegedly intimidated some employees into voting yes. The fired
writers filed complaints Tuesday with the National Labor Relations
Board, whose own attorneys are already pursuing wrongful
termination cases against the News-Press on behalf of
previously fired employees.

Barry Cappello, whose law firm is representing the
News-Press in these terminations, said the employees’
banner display was not only intended to harm the employer but
demonstrated “ill will and disloyalty.” No employer, he said, would
countenance that. Federal labor law draws a fine and squiggly line
between what is and isn’t permitted. It is a line that the
demonstrators were apparently trying to toe, Cappello said — noting
that they avoided naming the News-Press as the paper that
motorists should cancel their subscriptions to. Cappello said they
missed the mark. Asked whether boycotts are legal under federal
law, Cappello would say only that the banner display could not be
characterized as encouraging a boycott, as it said nothing about
union organizing.

Whether the overpass display encouraged a boycott, the fired
employees are now planning to target News-Press
advertisers, asking them not to patronize the paper. In addition,
they will be outside the newspaper’s offices, in De la Guerra
Plaza, for the rest of the week from 3-5 p.m., to disrupt work and
keep the heat on. On Tuesday, at the first of such demonstrations,
fired journalists, who very much wanted their jobs back, chanted
“McCaw, obey the law!”


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