On May 5 the National Labor Relations Board blocked a petition requesting that the continued representation of Santa Barbara News-Press employees by a local union be brought to a vote.

The NLRB — an independent federal agency that protects private-sector employees’ collective bargaining rights — notified News-Press management on May 3 that the board received a petition signed by 11 newsroom employees requesting an election to determine whether the staff wished to remain represented by the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters union. After reviewing the document, the NLRB issued a formal order indefinitely postponing a hearing on the petition.

NRLB 31st Region Deputy Regional Attorney Mori Rubin said the board decided to suspend the hearing on the grounds that 25 unresolved unfair labor practice lawsuits have been filed against the News-Press since 2000.

“The unfair labor practices that are described in the Judge’s decisions, which have not been remedied, would interfere with employee free choice in an election,” Rubin said in an email.

News-Press employees first voted in favor of being represented by the GCC/IBT union with a 33 to 6 vote in September 2006.

According to Ira Gottlieb, legal representative for the GCC/IBT, the News-Press is deliberately targeting union support.

“Since that 2006 election the News-Press has done everything in its power — including literally dozens of unlawful acts — short of shutting down to thwart the union, discourage and intimidate the employees from supporting the union and the collective bargaining process and otherwise making it as difficult as possible to gain a true voice in the workplace, though the law entitles them to no less,” Gottlieb said in an e-mail.

However, Petitioner and News-Press sportswriter Gerald Fall said the divide between the union and some News-Press employees stems from conflicting interests, including the organization’s practice of displaying criticisms about the publication throughout Santa Barbara.

“I didn’t think the Teamsters were representing me in the way they claimed they represent the employees,” Fall said. “I thought that they were hurting me as an employee here; they display signs all over town … asking people to cancel their subscription to the very paper for which I write. And I just have the question, the fundamental question: how does that help me?”

The newsroom bargaining group represented by the GCC/IBT and their employer — News-Press owner Wendy McCaw’s Ampersand Publishing, LLC — have yet to establish a legal contract governing terms of employment and employee’s rights.

According to News-Press Director of News Operations Don Katich, the paper will not agree to a contract that does not grant its publisher authority over all content.

“The News-Press will not agree to any terms that deprive the publishers’ complete control of its content or puts the paper at a competitive disadvantage or fails to respond to the needs of the customer or marketplace,” Katich said. “The best thing the News-Press can do is be profitable so we can continue to be a source of news and good in the community we cherish and serve. The union has no vested interest in our community or the success of the paper.”

Katich said the board’s decision reflects a disconnect between union leaders and the employees they represent.

“I think it demonstrates a complete failure by the Teamster leadership in representing the needs, wants and desires of the News-Press employees,” Katich said.

Despite News-Press employees’ claims, separate decisions from Administrative Law Judges William Kocol in 2007 and Clifford Anderson in 2010 found the newspaper guilty of several unfair practices including bargaining in bad faith and the wrongful termination of nine employees. The News-Press and Ampersand Publishing, LLC appealed both ongoing decisions.