The timing couldn’t have been better. Dickie Montemayor, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) saw fit to observe this weekend’s Labor Day festivities by dropping a $2 million bomb on the Santa Barbara News-Press and its ever-embattled owner, Wendy P. McCaw, for unfair labor practices and bad-faith bargaining — described variously in the court ruling as “flagrant” and “aggravated” — that the judge said would take 17 paragraphs to list in full. These violations, the judge decreed, date back to more than a decade ago, when that newspaper was in the throes of a bitter labor dispute with its newsroom employees over unionization.
The ruling awarded $936,000 to 40 newsroom workers represented by the union to compensate them for loss of earnings they would have accrued had the News-Press not hired temporary workers to perform many of the functions that would otherwise have been handled by employees covered by the union contract.
Another $221,000 was awarded to workers for merit pay increases they would have received had the management and owners of the News-Press not eliminated the merit-pay-increase system in place when newsroom employees voted to be represented by the Teamsters in September 2006. In addition, the judge ordered McCaw — sole owner of the News-Press — to pay the newsroom union $111,040 for expenses accrued at a time when the owners were engaged in bad-faith bargaining.
Adding an element of perverse irony, the writer who benefited the most from the NLRB ruling was Richard Mineards, a high-society columnist who covers galas, soirées, charity events, and polo field festivities, who was awarded $550,106 for being terminated for allegedly “economic reasons” when Mineards was covered by the union.
Mineards, a congenial bon vivant, lists on his educational résumé having been a deejay at Studio 54 in the 1970s, then famous as a coked-out all-night party scene for the likes of Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger. Today, Mineards — born in England — is all over any machinations involving the ex-Royal couple, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who have recently moved to Montecito.
One reason Mineards’s settlement order is so high is that he was among the paper’s better paid writers when his position was eliminated. Shortly thereafter, the News-Press asked Mineards to come back, but only on a freelance basis, which would have saved the paper the costs of Mineards’s health insurance and pension benefits. He declined to do so and has been writing instead for the Montecito Journal. Although Mineards was covered by the union, he never engaged in pro-union activities. For example, he did not attend union rallies or sit on the bargaining committee.
Likewise, the order awarded $157,000 to former sports writer Dennis Moran. Moran’s award is lower in part because his base pay was lower, but since being laid off on the pretext of economic reasons, he found a host of other jobs.
In the years since the height of the strife — pitting the News-Press not just against its own newsroom workers but to a remarkable degree against the community as a whole — the newspaper’s size and impact has shriveled considerably.
Today, real estate agents whisper that the News-Press offices are now being marketed for commercial leasing, though all participants reportedly must sign nondisclosure agreements.
Earlier this year, McCaw and editor Nick Masuda had a major falling out, and Masuda — who had emerged as a chef, cook, and bottle-washer — has since taken a job elsewhere. Masuda was hired after his predecessor Don Katich left, also for unspecified reasons.
To an unusual degree, the News-Press reflects the beliefs, feelings, whims, and temperament of its owner, Wendy P. McCaw. Earlier this week, McCaw published an editorial endorsing Donald J. Trump for a second term as president. This makes the News-Press one of only two newspapers to do so thus far. In 2016, News-Press was one of just six newspapers across the nation to endorse Trump. In 2016, the News-Press did not publish an actual endorsement explaining the newspaper’s rationale; it just announced the conclusion. This week, by contrast, the News-Press published an actual endorsement that was signed by McCaw.
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