Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Well, No One Said It Would Be Easy

Administrative Law Judge William G. Kocol strikes me as the kind of judge whom you would want deciding your case. He appears to be well-versed in labor law, on top of the evidence, and in control of the proceedings and the attorneys (and with Barry Cappello in the mix that's no small feat). He starts promptly, doesn't take long breaks, and makes everybody put in a full day of work.

So it must be a little disconcerting to the attorneys for the NLRB and especially to Union attorney Ira Gottlieb, when they hear the judge voice some skepticism, as he did on Tuesday, over whether the Union's campaign to restore journalistic integrity to the News-Press is protected concerted labor activity.

That's a big deal because if the campaign is determined not to be "protected" activity, the News-Press, for all intents and purposes will win this case.

Traditionally, wages, hours and working conditions are fair game for bargaining between labor and management. But to use an example that the judge gave, "if employees strike because they want a general manager fired, they can be fired for that. That's not protected concerted activity."

According to Cappello who represents the News-Press, "The conduct of the employees regarding 'taking our paper back' and 'journalistic ethics' are not protected."

The judge responded to Cappello's statement by saying, "I understand your defenses here and they have some attachment to Board law." "Board law" being a reference to the interpretations of the National Labor Relations Act, by the NLRB, which is the federal agency charged with administering the Act.

"If it's protected concerted activity a good part of the (News-Press') case falls," observed Kocol, "if it isn't they prevail on a good part of their case."

The judge has not made a final ruling on this issue and wants to hear more argument as well as receive written briefs before deciding.

I get the feeling that when this hearing began, Gottlieb wasn't expecting to have to justify the Union's right to protest and ultimately bargain over journalistic integrity and ethics. He assumed it was protected and that the newsroom employees had a right to advocate for it without fear of reprisal.

Now that's not so clear. My impression after listening to the arguments in the courtroom Tuesday morning is that Cappello has the judge's ear on this issue and the Union on their heels.

For the gavel-to-gavel account of Tuesday's proceedings see Eric Lindberg's article in today's Daily Sound.

During yesterday morning's hearing Cappello walked over to where I was seated in the back of the courtroom and told me that I hadn't quite correctly summarized the paper's position about the demonstration on the freeway bridge in my post on Monday. "Our position is that it's not that we didn't know they were union people, but that to be protected union activity they have to say it's union activity. There were no signs to indicate that."

On Monday I had suggested that if News-Press management didn't realize that was a union demonstration, they were indeed the only ones in town who didn't.

* * *

Sightings: Judge Kocol at the Tuesday evening downtown Farmer's Market. Dressed very casually in shorts, loafers with a copy of Harry Potter in hand.

* * *

Documentary filmmaker Sam Tyler's call for people who are willing to go on camera and speak in favor of Wendy McCaw and the News-Press is getting a lot of attention in the blogosphere. George has a piece on it over at I'm Not One to Blog, But . . . and there's a discussion thread at Blogabarbara.

Will anyone come forward and go on camera with anything positive to say about Wendy or the paper? Well, on behalf of an anonymous e-mailer I'm proud to present:

The Top 10 Things I Like About the News Press:

  1. No pesky, award-winning reporters

  2. Has a co-publisher named "Nipper"

  3. Put an end to the shenanigans at the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce

  4. Its lawyers can out bill your lawyers

  5. The only bias left there is the good bias

  6. Now that Starshine Roshell, Barney Brantingham and John Zant have left, I like The Independent

  7. Used computers purchased for editors already has child porn downloaded

  8. Alerted us to the basil shortage

  9. When I canceled my subscription they kept sending it to me for months

  10. Can be read from front to back in five minutes

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