Monday, October 01, 2007

Let The Educated Guessing Begin!

There are two kinds of fools in the world; those who predict the outcome of trials and those who listen. Having said that, there are a lot of you out there who seem to be interested in what this fool has to say about the recently completed News-Press/NLRB hearing.

The 17 days of testimony and evidence concluded last Wednesday. All that is left is for the attorneys to write and submit their closing and reply briefs. That process won't be concluded until at least mid-November. Then the case will finally be in the hands of administrative law judge William G. Kocol who is expected to take between two and four months to decide the case and issue a written decision.

I attended the hearing every day and saw all of the witnesses and heard almost all of their testimony. There was one day I had to leave about an hour early in the afternoon and I usually did miss the first half hour to 45 minutes following the lunch break each day as I wrote and uploaded my mid-day blog post on what had occurred earlier that day.

I don't have the benefit of the closing briefs as Judge Kocol will, but who can wait that long? Based on what I saw and heard, here are my impressions.

And as I got into writing this I realized it would be far too long to post in a single installment. So I've decided to divide it into three parts. Today is part one.

In many ways the union's and NLRB's case wasn't nearly open and shut as I thought it would be. There were 15 separate allegations of unfair labor practices and three sides to the story, that of the NLRB, the union and the paper.

With no less than seven lawyers in the courtroom, no wonder it took so long to try.

I'll start with the charge that I think is easiest to resolve. The demonstration on the freeway overpass in which reporters for the paper displayed signs including one that urged readers to cancel their newspaper.. Three days following the demonstration, all six of the reporters who were still employed by the paper were fired for "disloyalty" and "disparaging" the employer's product.

The issue is whether the demonstration was concerted labor action taking place in the midst of an organized labor dispute.

The News-Press' argument is that there was nothing about the demonstration that would have indicated that. The largest and most prominent sign was the one that read "Cancel Your Newspaper Today" and that made no reference to the dispute at the paper between labor and management. And according to Cappello there were no union signs on the footbridge, something he says is essential.

But the footbridge demonstration wasn't the debut of the "Cancel Your Newspaper Sign." It had been displayed at prior demonstrations outside of the News-Press building, and the subscription cancellation campaign, asking readers to turn in cards pledging to cancel the paper if the employees demands were not met, started as early as August of 2006.

Of course, who in Santa Barbara didn't know about the meltdown and ensuing unionization effort at the News-Press at that point? That makes a difference because on several occasions throughout the hearing Judge Kocol pointed out the overpass demonstration was not to be viewed in isolation but instead in the entire context of the dispute.

And even though he's not from around here, I think Judge Kocol left here with a good idea of the intense interest the News-Press story has garnered in the last year.

For starters, the judge was probably not used to being in front of the kind of audience he had for 17 days. I was told that labor relations hearings seldom if ever attract he number of observers that the News-Press hearing did.

And even if the News-Press was barely covering its own story the judge saw plenty of evidence introduced that other media outlets around here were. Articles from The Independent, the Daily Sound and the Daily Nexus were all introduced into evidence. As were videos from KEYT and KSBY. Even a post from my blog was introduced into evidence.

The judge even became aware that a documentary film is being made about the saga. Cappello sought to subpoena the footage of filmmaker Sam Tyler and the judge, after listening to argument, decided Cappello was on a fishing expedition and revoked the subpoena.

So I'd say the judge could conclude that anybody passing by would recognize that the demonstrators and signs on the bridge weren't some isolated random demonstration unrelated to the labor dispute.

I say that the general counsel and the union win this one and the News-Press will be found to have wrongfully fired the employees who were on the overpass and ordered to reinstate them with back pay.

If they are reinstated with back pay that means the News-Press will owe them their salary from the day they were terminated up until they are offered their old jobs back. By the time the case is decided, that will likely mean well over a year of back pay.

Tomorrow, the firings of reporters Melinda Burns and Anna Davison. Will they stick?

* * *

I've gotten quite a few suggestions for captions to the courtroom artist's drawing that appeared in the Daily Sound last Wednesday. I'm going to run the best ones towards the end of this week. If you'd like to submit a caption it's not too late.

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