Happy New Year to the embattled News-Press reporters who’ve been ordered to be reinstated to their newsroom jobs. But the day they walk back into the “House that T.M. Storke built” could be months – or even years – away. The eight journalists who won a National Labor Relations Board judge’s decision may pop champagne corks tonight. But by dawn’s early light on January 1, cold-reality could sink in.

News-Press owner Wendy McCaw probably has her appeal briefs already typed up. And during the appeals process, which surely will take a year or years (would you believe til doomsday?), the reporters won’t be going back to work covering the community.

On the Beat

Ira “Buddy” Gottlieb, attorney for the Teamsters Union representing the journalists, told me Monday: “The Santa Barbara News-Press has a right to appeal to the [full NLRB] Board, and we expect it will. While any such appeal is going on, [the reporters] will not be reinstated. So we’re hoping that the agency will again consider going to court to get a federal court injunction to put them back more quickly than would occur using the usual process.”

NLRB Administrative Judge William G. Kocol found that the eight reporters were fired in retaliation for their activities in seeking newsroom affiliation with the Teamsters Union.

“We have known all along that Wendy McCaw is an outlaw employer,” said Melinda Burns, reporter and one of the leaders in the successful fight for the newsroom to affiliate with the Teamsters. “She violated federal labor laws on multiple counts. It has been very hard on us who had been her intended victims.” Left without jobs during the long legal battle, only six of the eight remain in town.

Burns and other journalists will hold a press conference on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza in front of the News-Press building.

The stark unfairness of the entire process is clear as a January morning in Santa Barbara. You have a multi-millionaire newspaper owner using every maneuver in the lawbooks, a cumbersome legal bureaucracy, and weak federal law to thwart a small group of working people, most of whom have been jobless since being fired months ago.

And it doesn’t help that the NLRB board has been criticized for moving with glacial speed to hear appeals, and that federal law supposedly protecting workers is virtually toothless. If McCaw loses somewhere down the road – and she’s known to battle to the last inch and then fight some more – there are no real penalties. All she’d have to do is pay the reinstated workers back wages – and there are clear signs that she intends to dispute that too.

Still, news of Judge Kocol’s decisive decision, with the newspaper losing on every count, came as a joyful holiday surprise to the journalists. “We think it is a huge victory and an all-encompassing one,” Burns told me. “We are just thrilled.”

It was latest in a long string of victories for the reporters and others in the newsroom who have charged McCaw with violations of federal labor laws. But the taste of victory often turned bitter as McCaw sent her army of attorneys back to wage new appeals.

If the NLRB wanted to seek immediate rehiring, it would go to a federal district court in L.A., and ask the court to issue an injunction to reinstate the eight, and to stop the current hiring of temporary newsroom workers, also known as scabs, and placing them in the bargaining unit, and otherwise stop the paper from engaging in further unfair labor practices. The federal appeals court only comes into play after the NLRB rules on Judge Kocol’s decision, and then someone appeals from the NLRB’s decision. The court of appeals could also consider an appeal from the district court injunction.

Many believe that if necessary, McCaw will seek to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. That Court, however, only takes a small percentage of cases.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205.


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