Over 50 Santa Barbara News-Press staff members and supporters continued their fight with upper management on Saturday night, holding signs and chanting “McCaw, Obey the Law” outside the newspaper’s 18th annual banquet.
The protesters, gathered in front of the Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore in Montecito, criticized the paper’s management for “illegally” firing 21-year News-Press veteran Melinda Burns on Oct. 28. They also objected to the ownership filing unfair labor practices last week against the newsroom’s recently formed union.
Burns is one of nearly 30 employees to either be fired or to resign from the News-Press since early July when several editors left the paper to protest the ownership’s alleged meddling in editorial matters. Staff members said Burns was fired for her involvement in helping organize the union, an International Brotherhood of Teamsters affiliate.
According to spokesperson of News-Press owner Wendy P. McCaw, Burns was fired for biased reporting. Meanwhile, the owners filed a claim with the National Labor Relations Board on Friday, alleging that union members have been stealing individual copies of the paper and vandalizing newspaper racks.
Current News-Press employees at the rally commented on the situation on the condition of anonymity, saying they could lose their jobs for divulging internal matters. One employee said he hopes Saturday’s protest will persuade McCaw to negotiate with the union.
“The goal is to go to the bargaining table and work this out so we can go back to focusing on good journalism,” he said. “We think this is a means to that end.”
According to the termination letter from Associate Editor Scott Steepleton, Burns was for fired for biased and one-sided news reporting “despite counseling, admonishment and warnings over the past five years.” The letter also stated that Burns had “been given repeated warnings, and every opportunity to improve.”
However, Burns, who served 11 of her 21 years at the paper as a senior staff writer, said her leadership of the newsroom union was the reason she was fired. The Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union representing newsroom employees, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the matter, claiming the firing was a retaliatory move.
The anonymous employee at the protest said staff members feel they lack job security, and could be dismissed as easily as Burns.
“A lot of people feel they could be fired at any moment,” he said.
The union, formed on Sept. 27, is also facing a complaint filed against it by the News-Press for allegedly violating the National Labor Relations Act. The paper’s management claims that union members participated in “threatening and coercive secondary activities directed at its distributors” by stealing newspapers and vandalizing newspaper racks.
“Based on the union’s concerted and public campaign urging subscribers to cancel the paper, the News-Press believes that this theft and vandalism, which hurt its distributors, are attribute to the union,” the press release stated.
Burns said the union has been asking community members to cancel their subscriptions to the newspaper until McCaw and upper management agree to negotiate. Union members denied the News-Press’ charges of vandalism and theft.
“We’re going to continue requesting people to cancel their subscriptions,” Burns said. “[Let’s] send a message to McCaw.”
One protester, who canceled her subscription to the paper, said she thinks McCaw has turned the News-Press into an “offensive” publication.
“I wish [McCaw] would go away so we could have our newspaper back,” she said.