In a landslide vote yesterday, the news staff at the Santa Barbara News-Press decided to unionize and end what they and many supporters say is unethical interference in the newsroom.

Since June, over 20 employees have resigned or left the News-Press staff, most commenting that the paper’s owner and upper management had meddled inappropriately in articles. A majority of the remaining staff has been pushing for a union to protect journalistic standards as well as their jobs. The vote, held in closed session from 1 to 5 p.m., was 33 to six in favor of unionizing.

The Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters will now represent 50 newsroom staff members.

Some of the complaints against the ownership and management include an incident involving Travis Armstrong – the former opinion page editor and recently appointed publisher. According to News-Press employees, upper management decided not to print a second story about Armstrong’s arrest for drunk driving.

In another incident, upper management reprimanded three editors and a reporter for printing actor Rob Lowe’s address in a news article, even though there had previously not been a policy against such content.
The editors and reporter were told that the Lowe family had been angered by the incident, and demanded action be taken.

Melinda Burns, 20-year News-Press staff-writer and campaign leader to form the union, said the meeting was calm and orderly, and most people were happy with the results of the vote.

“Today’s victory is a turning point,” Burns said in her official statement. “We hope our union will help us save the News-Press so that it will once again prosper and thrive.”

Burns said that the next step for the news staff is to negotiate a legally binding contract with the News-Press upper management about writing and presentation.

The editorial employees released a statement stating, “This vote sends a message to the company that we are strong and united in our effort. … We were victorious in this battle but now we’re about to enter another. … We need the community’s continued support until we get a contract that guarantees journalistic integrity will be restored to the newsroom and we will be treated with the respect we deserve and the community will receive the quality paper it deserves.”

Agnes Huff Communications Group, public relations company for the News-Press management, released a brief statement that expressed the owner’s concern and disappointment with yesterday’s contract negotiations.

“The newsroom employees today voted to authorize the Graphic Communications Council of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as their bargaining agent,” the statement said. “Based on the tactics employed by the union, the News-Press is not convinced that its employees were afforded a fair election free from coercion. The paper will consider all its options.”

The correct name of the union is the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, not the Graphic Communications Council of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

According to the statement, News-Press owner Wendy McCaw said she is unhappy with the overwhelming vote to form the union, but she expects the News-Press to continue on as normal.

“While we are very disappointed in the outcome of today’s election and the way this organizing campaign has been waged, we are pleased that this unpleasant labor dispute is moving towards a resolution,” McCaw said. “The focus of our attention remains on our responsibility to provide timely, balanced news coverage to our readers in Santa Barbara and the surrounding communities.”