The Santa Barbara News-Press continued making its own news yesterday, firing three more staff writers, bringing the toll up to six terminated employees in 48 hours.
According to the staff members, they were fired in response to a protest held on Friday morning during which current and former News-Press employees hung a sign that read “Cancel Your Newspaper Today!” directly above Highway 101 on the Anapamu Street footbridge. Yesterday, the six fired staffers, a few former employees and their union representative held the same banner up in front of the News-Press office in De La Guerra Plaza to protest their “illegal firing.”
During yesterday’s press conference, the group asked the community to protest owner and co-publisher Wendy McCaw’s “injustice” in DLG Plaza each day for the rest of the week from 3 to 5 p.m.
“McCaw can fire us, yes she can, but she cannot get rid of us,” said Dawn Hobbs, who was fired Monday night.
The six fired employees – with the exception of 38-year veteran sports writer John Zant – wore all black as they announced their intentions to fight their “illegal” termination in the courts.
The ex-employees and their union representative maintained that unions have the right to inflict peaceful economic damage to their employers, and asking community members to cancel their News-Press subscriptions is within that right.
The official reason for firings, as stated in a letter from associate editor Scott Steepleton to the six ex-employees, was “engaging in disloyal conduct.” The fired staffers disputed this charge, calling themselves faithful workers and ethical journalists.
“I’ve given this paper absolute loyalty,” Zant said. “For 38 years, I’ve given it my very best writing.”
The promised lawsuits are only the latest, however, in a string of such legal fights: McCaw has contended with the National Labor Relations Board that the early September vote by newsroom employees to unionize was invalid; employees have countersued on claims of labor law violations; and even former News-Press Executive Editor Jerry Roberts and McCaw have entered a lawsuit against each other.
After the former employees spoke to members of the press at the hastily arranged conference, they marched in front of the News-Press building chanting “McCaw, Obey the Law.” The conference was announced yesterday afternoon after it was revealed that Melissa Evans, Tom Schultz and Zant had all been fired earlier in the day.
“I never thought that I’d be standing in front of this building announcing that I’d been fired,” Evans said. “And I never thought that it’d be the proudest moment of my 10-year journalism career.”
Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal and Dawn Hobbs were terminated on Monday.
Current and former News-Press employees have been asking Santa Barbara residents to cancel their subscription to the paper since December, Schultz said. Melinda Burns, a staff writer who according to the union was “illegally fired” in October, said former employees are trying to convince businesses to stop advertising with the paper.
The fiasco at De La Guerra Plaza began seven months ago when six top editors from the paper, and a renowned local columnist, all resigned in protest to McCaw’s interference in the newsroom. Since then, almost 40 editors and staff writers have resigned or been fired.