While students went home to relax for the break, the Santa Barbara News-Press pushed through the holiday season with more claims against others, less claims against themselves and the same claim surrounding staff unionization.
The News-Press and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union met in court for a National Labor Relations Board hearing to determine whether staffers at the paper had held a legitimate vote to unionize. The outcome of the hearing, which occurred this past Tuesday and Wednesday, will wrap up in the next few weeks when the judge renders his decision to the NLRB.
Meanwhile, the News-Press filed a complaint on Dec. 18 in the Superior Court of California against Susan Paterno, a senior writer for the American Journalism Review, for trade libel and defamation. Later, on Dec. 21, the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union representing newsroom employees, dropped four unfair labor practice claims against the News-Press. The remaining charges brought by the union to the newspaper will be addressed in a hearing in February.
Printed in the December/January edition of the AJR, Paterno’s article, titled “Santa Barbara Smackdown,” narrates the events that occurred at the News-Press since last summer. Several members of its news staff resigned in response to what they saw as a breach of newsroom ethics, specifically, interference in news stories from upper management and the ownership. Paterno is also the Chapman University director of journalism.
Since the initial resignation of several top editors in July, over two dozen staff members have quit. In late September, approximately 30 newsroom staff members voted to form a union under the Teamsters. The union was formed, staffers said, to protect their jobs and journalistic integrity.
Claiming that the article was biased and misleading about News-Press owner Wendy McCaw, the newspaper filed against Paterno, and yet not the AJR, for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, including lawyer fees.
Many professional journalists and editors have defended Paterno, saying that her article was fair and undeserving of a lawsuit. Additionally, fellow journalists have chastised the News-Press for suing an individual reporter, suggesting that the newspaper wants to intimidate media sources that attempt to criticize the publication.
Three days after filing against Paterno, the National Labor Relations Board informed the News-Press that the Teamsters union had withdrawn four unfair labor practice claims. According to a press release from the News-Press, four pending charges remain and include “a claim regarding the paper’s conflict of interest policy, the cancellation of a newspaper column, the issuance of suspension notices in response to an employee disturbance, and the claim that one employee, Melinda Burns, should not have been discharged.”
According to the press release, the NLRB scheduled the hearing for the consolidated charges for Feb. 28.
“The News-Press welcomes the opportunity to have these issues heard as part of due process by the administrative law judge, and intends to further demonstrate that the management decisions in question were fair, consistent and undertaken for legitimate and lawful reasons,” said David J. Millstein, general counsel for the Santa Barbara News-Press. “We are confident that these claims will be found without merit.”
As for the decision on whether the unionization vote at the News-Press in late September was legitimate, union lawyer Ira Gottlieb said the judge expected a prompt ruling on the matter. He said Judge William Schmidt mandated that each side deliver file briefs to him on Jan. 25.
“We’re very confident,” Gottlieb said. “We had good evidence and testimony.”
Gottlieb said he does not know when, if ever, a satisfactory ending to the News-Press mess will happen, but he said union members deserve a better workplace and that the current management does not seem open to bargaining any time soon.
“I don’t work there, but from the firsthand information I hear, it’s not a positive place or comfortable environment,” Gottlieb said.