Even as bargaining negotiations are going on between the unionized newsroom and ownership in an undisclosed Santa Barbara location, the News-Press continues to violate federal labor laws. So suggests an unfair labor practice charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the Teamsters on Tuesday morning, November 27. The charge claims that the daily newspaper is breaking the law by hiring temporary employees to work in positions that should be represented by the union. (Read the charge yourself.) This, according to Teamsters attorney Ira Gottlieb, amounts to undermining union representation and is illegal.
The issue of temp workers first came on the Teamsters’ radar months ago, as the newspaper began publishing articles from recently hired reporters. When first asked about these new bylines in October and then again at the start of bargaining talks in November, the News-Press‘ attorneys maintained that only one employee had been officially hired into the union-represented newsroom: gossip columnist Richard Mineards. The other eight new newsroom staffers were actually being paid by a temp agency called Top Echelon (and in one other case, by an agency apparently called “OfficeTemp”).
In so doing, these “temporary” staffers would not be protected by the union. But, says Gottlieb, there are plenty of NLRB cases that show this is illegal. The law, according to Gottlieb, exists for “pretty obvious” reasons. “If all an employer had to do was say, ‘Oh, we don’t employ anybody anymore-we subcontract everybody,'” then it would leave a gaping loophole through unionization. If this was a strike, Gottlieb admits that the laws would be different, and employers are allowed to hire temp or even permanent workers in that situation. But there is no strike in the News-Press case.
And that’s why Gottlieb tried to determine the status of these new staffers were as soon as he learned of them. “We gave them the opportunity to respond. We asked, ‘What’s going on?’ We asked for more information. We asked, ‘Why do you think you can do this?’ and we cited NLRB cases saying that you can’t do it. We gave [News-Press labor attorney Michael Zinser] till yesterday to respond, and he didn’t respond. He didn’t even contact me to say he needs more time,” explained Gottlieb. “So here’s the charge. We would have preferred not to go this route.”
By the time the two parties come back to the bargaining table – the talks have been sporadic to date – Gottlieb believes that the NLRB will have made a decision on this charge. And he believes they will side with the Teamsters. “It’s a pretty straightforward law,” he said.
Multiple emails were sent between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. to News-Press attorneys Barry Cappello and Michael Zinser as well as spokeswoman Agnes Huff. They had not responded by the time of this posting.