Victory for Workers’ Rights in Santa Barbara “News-Press Mess”

In a sweeping decision, the National Labor Relations Board last week ordered the Santa Barbara News-Press to reinstate me and seven other reporters who were illegally fired nearly five years ago, after our newsroom voted to unionize. I was the first to be escorted out of the building in October, 2006, one month after we voted overwhelmingly to join the union. I was a senior writer, I had been at the paper for 21 years, and I had won local, state, regional and national awards for the paper with my reporting.

Back in July of 2006, the News-Press newsroom faced a crisis. Five top editors resigned, alleging that Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire owner, was improperly meddling in news coverage, in part by arbitrarily disciplining her own reporters and editors. In September of that year, seeking to protect our professional integrity and job security, we newsroom employees voted 33-6 to join the Graphics Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

During the past five years, McCaw has proved to be one of the most blatantly anti-union employers in California, if not the whole country. She has racked up more than 25 violations of federal labor law, lost four trials before federal labor law judges, and two out of four appeals so far, with two still pending before the NLRB. One judge cited News-Press management for its “widespread, general disregard for the fundamental rights of the employees.”

Victory is sweet, but it is taking a very long time. Last week, McCaw vowed to appeal the board’s recent decision, a 3-0 vote by two Democrats and a Republican. The NLRB declared the labor law violations at the News-Press to be “serious and widespread.”

McCaw’s attempts at union-busting are thuggish and un-American. She didn’t hesitate to falsely accuse us fired reporters of bias, disloyalty and dishonesty, variously, even as she was illegally firing one out of every four newsroom employees who voted for the Teamsters. McCaw also has been found guilty of illegally harassing, threatening and spying on union members and demanding that reporters remove “McCaw Obey the Law” buttons.

Still pending before the NLRB is McCaw’s appeal of a prior ruling in which she was found guilty of illegally bargaining in bad faith and firing a ninth reporter, a member of the union’s negotiating team. Even as I write, McCaw continues to break the law during negotiations for a fair employment contract. For nearly four years, her representatives have been wasting time at the table, merely pretending to negotiate.

We have tremendous allies in our fight for workers’ rights at the News-Press. The Teamsters have pledged never to abandon us, no matter how long it takes. The union has put its best organizers into our campaign and has spent more than half a million dollars to help bring McCaw to justice. More than 16,000 subscribers have quit the News-Press during the last five years, a drop of nearly 40 percent. We are urging people not to buy or read the News-Press or advertise in the paper until McCaw signs a fair contract with her newsroom.

Thank you to all our brothers and sisters in the labor movement, especially you dedicated Teamsters who have stood up for us all these years. We will not lose this fight. United, we will prevail!