THEY’RE BACK: There was a strong essence of dej vu when the National Labor Relations Board opened its latest labor law prosecution of the Santa Barbara News-Press on Tuesday.
Santa Barbara lawyer Barry Cappello was back representing owner Wendy McCaw, just as he did at the 2007 trial. Attorney Ira Gottlieb was there again for the Teamsters Union and newsroom employees, and Steven Wyllie was back as counsel for the NLRB.
The only new face among headliners at the Santa Barbara College of Law courtroom was that of genial NLRB administrative law judge Clifford Anderson, not to be confused with the Santa Barbara Superior Court judge of the same name. In 2007, ALJ William G. Kocol ruled that eight newsroom union activists fired by McCaw after a legally protected demonstration should be rehired. That’s been on appeal by McCaw ever since and there’s been no word of when the full NLRB board in Washington is likely to hand down a decision. Meanwhile, the eight reporters haven’t been rehired.
During opening arguments Tuesday, Wyllie accused the News-Press of bad faith during 18 months of fruitless negotiations trying to work out a new union contract; of interfering with NLRB investigations; and of hiring temporary employees to undercut the union, among other charges. Cappello strongly denied the accusations and countered with a claim that the union’s objective was to control the paper’s news content, contrary to the First Amendment. This, Cappello said, was “a central tenet of our case.”
The NLRB and the newsroom employees have strenuously denied this intent. But Cappello on Tuesday cited federal Judge Stephen Wilson’s decision citing the First Amendment when Judge Wilson refused to order the reporters immediately rehired pending a decision on the NLRB appeal. Judge Wilson’s May 2008 ruling is under appeal before the federal Ninth Circuit appeals court.
The current trial is expected to last about four weeks. Boxes of files are stacked up in the courtroom and a couple dozen witnesses are expected to testify. One person subpoenaed is former News-Press gossip columnist Richard Mineards, who was bounced from his $75,000-per-year job last January without notice to the union representing him. He now writes for the Montecito Journal, salary not known.
Sure to be disputed is the firing of sportswriter Dennis Moran, who happened to be a regular member of the union contract negotiating committee. Union members found this to be retaliation for his activism. Wyllie said the reason given by management was that the shrunken sports department didn’t cover a golf tournament. Cappello on Tuesday countered with the charge that Moran gave false information to the public.
Stay tuned for more to come.
Barney Brantingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 965-5205. He writes online columns and a print column on Thursdays.