NLRB: Calif. Newspaper Kept Violating Labor Law, Must Bargain With Union, Rehire Employees

The long-running labor law tragedy that is the Santa Barbara News-Press has become took another new turn 27 September 2012 with a new ruling from the NLRB.

In 2000, Wendy P. McCaw, an ex-wife of billionaire Craig McCaw, bought the paper, which was California’s oldest daily newspaper. Paradoxically McCaw promptly went to war with the newspaper and its staff.

The historic Santa Barbara News-Press-building. The NLRB ruled in favor of former employees. (Photo Doc Searls via-flickr)

The historic Santa Barbara News-Press-building. The NLRB ruled in favor of former employees. (Photo Doc Searls via-flickr)

In early summer, 2006, the News-Press became international news when six editors and a long-time columnist suddenly resigned.

The group publicly cited the imposition of McCaw and her hired managers’ personal opinions onto the process of reporting and publishing the news.

McCaw had expressed the view that the News-Press newsroom staff had become sloppy and biased.

Between July 2006 and February 2007, 60 of 200 total employees, including all but two news reporters, resigned or were fired from the News-Press.

Newsroom employees voted to unionize with the Teamsters, and both the News-Press management and the Teamsters made multiple appeals to the National Labor Relations Board.

Former employees have encouraged subscribers to cancel their subscriptions to the News-Press, and have encouraged advertisers to cease advertising in the paper.

McCaw’s attorneys filed lawsuits against former employees, journalists, as well as competing newspapers.

They have issued numerous cease and desist letters, to websites linking to the News-Press website, to local business that display signs in support of former employees, and to former employees who speak to local media.

The parent company of the Santa Barbara News Press, Ampersand Publishing, filed a Federal lawsuit 9 November 2006 for copyright infringement against the Santa Barbara Independent – where many former News-Press columnists became contributors to the community weekly – claiming a link on violated copyright law.

The case never reached trial. An undisclosed settlement was reached 28 April 2008, dismissing the case at both parties request

A federal judge dismissed the employees’ suit. The judge riled the newspaper had a right to control both its content and its personnel under the the First Amendment. (McDermott v. Ampersand Publishing LLC, Central District of California, No. CV08-1551 2008). A request for review by the US Court of Appeals is pending.

Second NLRB Ruling In Two Years

Because of continuing violations of federal labor law, the National Labor Relations Board issued a broad cease-and-desist order against the publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press. The NLRB also ordered the newspaper to bargain in good faith with the union representing its employees.

The NLRB also extended the union’s certification period by one year and ordered Ampersand Publishing, LLC, to reimburse the union for past bargaining expenses.

A three-member NLRB panel noted that its 27 September 2012 ruling against Ampersand was the second in two years.

The publisher failed to bargain in good faith with the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters despite an overwhelming vote in favor of the union by employees.

Instead, the NLRB found, Ampersand’s proposals would have allowed it to unilaterally set wages, discipline employees and hire and fire employees.

The NLRB also agreed with Administrative Law Judge Clifford H. Anderson that the publisher committed numerous other labor law violations.

These violations included

  • unlawfully firing and suspending an employee for union and concerted activities
  • laying off an employee without providing the union with notice or an opportunity to bargain
  • failing to grant unit employees traditional merit increases without bargaining with the union
  • transferring union work to non-union freelance journalists offering employees the services of its attorneys if contacted by an NLRB agent investigating unfair labor practice charges

“By bargaining in bad faith with the union for the entire certification year and beyond, while simultaneously engaging in serious and widespread unfair labor practices, the respondent has both precluded any progress in bargaining and undermined the union’s bargaining strength and support among unit employees,” the NLRB found.

In addition, the NLRB ordered the publisher to stop moving union work to non-union contract employees and to rescind a unilaterally imposed one-story-per-day productivity standard. It also ordered the newspaper to issue offers of reinstatement for two employees and to make them whole for lost earnings.

In its earlier decision against Ampersand Publishing, issued in August 2011, the NLRB found the publisher had fired numerous News-Press journalists because of their union activity.

The NLRB ordered the newspaper to offer reinstatement to eight employees, including six who hung a banner from a footbridge urging motorists to cancel their newspaper subscription and two others who were ostensibly fired for ‘biased reporting.’

The newspaper was also told to rescind discriminatory evaluations of four union supporters, rescind suspension notices sent to eleven employees and make all harmed employees whole with back pay.

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