GAIN BUT NO PAIN: Let’s see, rob a bank and, if the gendarmes collar you, do they just let you hand back the bucks and walk?

No punishment, no fines? Sneak out of a jewelry shop with a fistful of diamonds and Rolexes? Same thing. Hand them back and all is forgiven?

Nope, that’s not the real world of crime and punishment. But oddly enough, that’s what happens if you violate some of Uncle Sam’s toothless labor laws that are supposed to protect American workers.

On the Beat

Your employees vote to unionize? Well, just start firing them and try to break the union, even if it’s against the law. So what if they have no income, rent money, health insurance, or milk for the baby? That just means they’ll be spending more time keeping the wolf from the door and less time on the union.

And so what if some federal bureaucrat down the road months or years from now tells you to rehire them? All you have to do is pay them what you would had to anyway and not be assessed a penny. No fines, no penalties. Is this a great country, or what?

Who knows, maybe you can even find a reason to can them again? Shouldn’t be hard.

Now I’m not comparing the News-Press situation with bank robbery or a jewelry store heist. But under the law, even if the NLRB or a judge orders owner Wendy McCaw to rehire the fired eight, she pays no fines or penalties, even if their firing was illegal. The law that protects workers’ right to organize is as weak as Congress’ will power.

But in the meantime, she’s gotten eight troublemakers out of her newsroom and maybe gone forever. Under the proposed federal Employee Free Choice Act, remedies for breaking the labor laws would be toughened. But President Bush has made it clear that he’d veto that sort of foolishness.

McCaw’s attorney Barry Cappello says he’ll challenge the judge’s finding that rejected McCaw’s contention that the 33-6 union election was flawed. Cappello’s “exceptions” taken to the full NLRB board sound like another long delay, and if he loses maybe he’ll take a trip to federal court for an appeal.

As I’ve said, the eight may be on social security before they get rehired. Unless, of course, the NLRB gets up on its hind legs and asks a federal judge for an injunction ordering her to rehire them, now.

LET’S RALLY ABOUT IT: A Reinstate the Eight Rally will be held Saturday, March 24, at 1:30 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza to protest the illegal firing of eight News-Press reporters. The eight fired reporters are: Melinda Burns, John Zant, Anna Davison, Dawn Hobbs, Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal, Tom Schultz, and Melissa Evans.

The eight are starting an online news site and broadcast news program, the Santa Barbara Newsroom, in an effort to provide the community with the quality local journalism while they await reinstatement to their jobs. is scheduled to launch on April 2. A half-hour news program will follow, airing regularly on Channel 17, Santa Barbara’s public access station. The time slot will be announced soon.

LET’S TALK ABOUT IT: The Greater Santa Barbara Clergy Association will sponsor a Town Hall forum on Sunday, March 25, to discuss News-Press issues. It will be at the First United Methodist Church, 305 E. Anapamu St., 3-4:45 p.m. The purpose is to provide a balanced forum to hear all points of view. Email for more info.

DOLLARS FOR DOPE: Reader reports spotting this sign held by one of the young and restful: “In Extreme Pain. Need dollars for Medical Marijuana.”

DANGER OF PLASTIC: “A couple of days ago I had the pleasant surprise of seeing a heron standing at the edge of my pool,” reports Montecitan Michelle Rhea. “My pleasure soon turned to sorrow, however, when I noticed something plastic wrapped around its beak. The heron was able to open its mouth enough to get water, but unless it can manage to get the plastic off its beak it likely will soon starve to death. I watched impotently as it alternately drank from my pool and scraped its beak against the cement in an effort to free it from the plastic bag. There was nothing I could do to help that heron, but we can all do something to prevent other creatures needlessly suffering due to our own thoughtlessness” by picking up our trash.

In this case, Michelle, you might have called the Wildlife Care Network or County Animal Control to see if someone was available to rush out and attempt to free the bird. If, of course, it would have hung around and allowed itself to be captured for care.

LIGHTER FOOT: Hal Chansky suggests a way to ease off on gas prices. If more of us would drive at a maximum of 55 mph we’d save gas, reduce demand, and thereby cause easing off of pump prices, Hal proposes.

(Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes a Tuesday and Friday online column and a Thursday print column for The Independent.)


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