The Santa Barbara News-Press terminated two more employees this week, bringing February’s total to eight fired workers, on charges one fired employee called “goofy.”
Ramon J. Lopez and Carl Batchelder, both long-time employees at the Goleta plant that prints the News-Press each day, were fired early Tuesday morning for what Batchelder and other terminated employees called their “interest in unionizing.” While workers at the newspaper printing plant are not unionized, Batchelder said employees had discussed it in the past, and were waiting to see what happened to the newsroom employees’ effort.
Batchelder, a 26-year veteran of the plant, said the management believed he and Lopez were the most vocal employees, and would vote to unionize if given the chance. He said his termination letter, handed to him after he was driven downtown to the News-Press building after his late-night shift, was full of “goofy” reasons for his firing – including violating a rule previously unknown to him.
“I violated a policy that wasn’t even in place yet,” Batchelder said.
Batchelder said plant security had been beefed up recently, and the management “went wild” with security precautions. He said doors were locked and security guards had been posted throughout the plant since early February, around the same time current and former News-Press newsroom employees held a banner over Highway 101 asking commuters to cancel their newspaper subscription – an act six employees were later fired for.
“You couldn’t move out of the building without bumping into a guard,” Batchelder said.
Dawn Hobbs, a newsroom employee fired earlier this month, said the two most recent firings are another instance of News-Press management punishing employees for their attempts to unionize.
“These two men who were fired believe they were fired directly for their interest in unionizing,” Hobbs said.
In the last few weeks, the paper has fired eight employees – six of them for “disloyalty” – Editorial Page Editor Travis Armstrong has written two opinion pieces blasting local politicians who publicly spoke out against the newspaper, and on Wednesday the News-Press ran a full page titled “Facts About the Santa Barbara News Press” explaining the paper’s recent actions.
“There have been numerous lies and misstatements over the past months about the Santa Barbara News-Press,” the full-page message reads. “Although we refuse to engage in mud-slinging dialogue with the teamsters, we do want to set the record straight with you, our loyal subscribers and advertisers.”
The message goes on to say that the current situation at the paper is the direct result of a campaign organized by the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union representing the newsroom employees.
Agnes Huff, a public relations consultant for the News-Press, did not respond to calls or e-mail seeking comment.
Hobbs said the News-Press’ message was absurd. She said employees did not begin unionizing until several months after troubles in the newsroom with upper management began.
The “Facts” that ran in Wednesday’s News-Press appear to be a modified version of an internal memo that was leaked to the press last week. Both were formatted as 10 questions and answers, and were responses to accusations launched against the News-Press in recent months. Although the public message does not make allegations against specific journalists such as former Executive Editor Jerry Roberts, the leaked internal memo was more explicit in placing the blame on former editors and the Teamsters.
“[Former editors] walked out because they believed what Jerry Roberts told them,” the original leaked memo reads. “Because Roberts could not accept the fact that he could no longer do everything his way, he staged a public departure and convinced some loyal staff to follow him.”
Hobbs said she was surprised to see the full-page message because it appeared to be a violation of a News-Press policy to never share internal memos.
“I was also surprised to see that they feel that they can distribute – mass produce – internal memos, when we were specifically told not to do so, and were threatened with firing if we did,” Hobbs said.