May 13, 2008
Dear Newsroom Employee,
I am writing with regard to the recent layoffs and accompanying letter from the Publisher. Sadly, though not unexpectedly, the Publisher refuses to accept any responsibility for the continued decline of readers and revenue at the Santa Barbara News-Press that she claims has forced her to layoff employees. Instead, she attributes these losses in part, to the Teamsters’ call for subscribers to cancel the paper and what she characterizes as the incessant litigation over unfounded charges causing the expenditure of significant economic resources. Interestingly, in the middle of the summer of 2006, the paper published a vicious (and on many points, blatantly inaccurate) editorial denying that the Teamsters’ efforts had had any impact. Similarly, at the time of the unlawful firings of six newsroom employees, the News-Press claimed that “The paper is doing fine. In fact, it is doing much better since the changes in the newsroom.” Her public comments at various times indicate that depending on the identity of her audience, Mrs. McCaw tends to blame the decline in readership to whatever cause suits her, be it the condition of the industry, the Union or certain individuals who she perceives as adversaries. It should be noted that since the negotiations began there have been no rallies, media ads, or press conferences called for the specific purpose of encouraging subscriber to cancel their subscriptions. This is not by accident; this is by design. I have discussed with Teamsters campaign people the need to give the negotiations process a chance to succeed (without distraction) in the event the Publisher demonstrates she is serious about bargaining. Unfortunately, the Publisher has not shown the least bit of interest in trying to reach an agreement that would address employees concerns. I will meet again soon with the campaign strategists to review available options that may move the negotiations forward. I am still trying to understand how someone can be repeatedly found guilty of “unfounded charges.” I have informed News-Press Management on several occasions that they will be held accountable for what they say and do. If they break the law, they take the chance that it will cost money in litigation. The simple solution is: Obey the Law.
The Publisher’s letter also fails to mention that much of her legal expenses are related to taking, or threatening to take legal action against anyone and everyone who oppose her viewpoints, including local businesses, authors of articles critical of how she runs her newspaper and competitor publications. What appears to be obvious to everyone but the Publisher is that many of the misfortunes at the Santa Barbara News-Press appear to be the result of mismanagement at the top, including a disregard for the employees’ interests. In a competitive News Industry it is critical that responsible cost cutting be paired with wise investments to retain and attract readers. So let’s look at the Santa Barbara News-Press owner’s track record over the past few years. She began by increasingly interjecting her opinions on how news should be reported with the Management Staff at the paper after publicly promising to allow the professionals to do their jobs. Failing to convince those professionals that she knew better, the owner decided to act as Publisher with her companion serving as co-publisher. Shortly afterward several staff resigned in protest over her meddling in the reporting of news and the discipline of employees deemed to have disobeyed nonexistent rules. In the months that followed many more staff and employees were either terminated because they were perceived as disloyal or incompetent by the Publisher despite the fact that many were recognized by the industry and regularly won awards for their accomplishments, or were driven out because they could no long tolerate the working conditions. The recent layoff further depletes the pool of experienced, competent staff. Some positions in the newsroom have not been replaced while others are being filled with long-term “temporary” workers with no employee benefits, though they perform bargaining unit work. The decisions made thus far by the current Management haven’t exactly panned out for the Santa Barbara News-Press. If the owner is unwilling or unable to acknowledge she has made mistakes, she cannot learn from them. At some point she must recognize that situation has gotten far worse, not better under the current ownership/management at the paper and she is ultimately responsible. The release of experienced, competent and respected employees and managers is not the model of a successful business plan. Escorting these individuals out the door without a fair severance package should be considered an embarrassment, not a sound business decision. Having the employees and staff fear your wrath is not the same as having them respect your judgment. If the top Management cannot see these distinctions, something is seriously wrong.
The decisions made to date do not exactly inspire confidence in the Publisher’s ability or desire to do the right thing. If it is her intention to run the Santa Barbara News-Press into the ground because she prefers to fight every fight, rather than to do what is right, she can pursue that option and there is not much anyone can do about it. On the other hand, if she truly wants to re-establish the Santa Barbara News-Press to its former prominence the Union is willing to listen and work collaboratively. We have expressed these sentiments several times throughout the negotiations. However, at this time Management is not winning friends at the table or in the newsroom with its proposals and overall approach. While we are willing to work collaboratively if the sentiment is reciprocated, we have shown that we are not afraid to fight to improve the situation in the News-Press Newsroom. The Committee believes it is not too late turn things around should the Publisher conclude that is what she wants. The ball is in her court. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to call me.
Sincerely, Nicholas D. Caruso, International Representative GCC/IBT CC: Union Committee