Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Reviewing The Rest of The Charges.

The crystal ball gets put into storage after today. Monday and Tuesday I reviewed the evidence on the firings of the six News-Press reporters who were on the freeway overpass as well as the firings of reporters Melinda Burns and Anna Davison for bias.

Regardless of the outcome on any of these remaining charges that I discuss today, there's not much at stake here. Unlike the firings of employees which could result in orders of reinstatement and back pay, the only penalty if the News-Press is found to have committed unfair labor practices with respect to the rest of the charges is nothing more than a requirement that the employer post a notice stating that they won't do it again.

In other words, apologize and post. Unless Wendy is forced to wear one of those "McCaw Obey The Law" buttons, it's hard to get excited about the consequences.

Canceling Starshine Roshell's column. The NLRB and the Union say the column was canceled because Roshell was a union adherent. The News-Press says it made a decision to do away with all columns written by reporters. Of course, since they exempted the sports section from this rule, the only reporter who actually had her column yanked was Starshine.

You know, there was a pretty good paper trail about McCaw not liking columnists. There's her April 8th memo to then publisher Joe Cole in which
McCaw complains about Martha Smilgis' column saying that it had become to "political" and that she wasn't writing about "Dish" stuff at all. "This needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY or she goes."

The objections to Smilgis' column were repeated by co-publisher Arthur von Wiesenberger in a memo he later wrote to Jerry Roberts. But von Wiesenberger didn't stop with Smilgis. He didn't like the fact that Roberts was writing a column. "I believe Joe Cole had told you not to do a Tuesday column. I need to reiterate, no column. That real estate is for the columnist that were asked to find. Have you found one?"

So, Wendy and Arthur were on record as not liking columnists. The only problem from the News-Press standpoint is that there was no evidence that they ever complained about Starshine's column. That makes its abrupt cancellation look pretty suspicious.

Suspending employees Al Bonowitz, Melissa Evans, Kim Favors, Dawn Hobbs, Karna Hughes, George Hutti, Rob Kuznia, Barney McManigal, Lara Milton, Tom Schultz and Mike Traphagen for attempting to deliver a letter on August 14th of last year to McCaw. The union should win this one easily. Evidence that it was disruptive and intimidating as the News-Press claimed was non-existent.

Denying bonuses last December to Davison, Evans, Hobbs and Hughes for anti-union reasons. Hard call. There was evidence that lots of other union adherents got their performance bonuses even though the paper was aware of their union sympathies. But then, the reasons cited for docking Hobbs and the others in their performance reviews seemed to be fabricated.

Hobbs was marked down for having cursed at editorial page editor Travis Armstrong as Roberts was being led out of the building. Hobbs denied doing so and other witnesses backed her up. Only Armstrong, who arguably had an axe to grind with her (she wrote the story about his arrest for drunk driving) testified that he heard her utter the offensive words. This one is too close to call.

Ordering employees not to wear "McCaw, Obey the Law" buttons or display signs with that same slogan on their vehicles parked in a News-Press lot.

If an employee can wear a button saying "happiness is seeing your boss' picture on a milk carton" why not a "McCaw Obey The Law Button? (In another case, it's apparently been ruled that the milk carton buttons are okay.)

Interrogating employees about union activities, and filming or taping union rallies. Cappello never put on a defense to this charge.

Allowing its general counsel, David Millstein, to intrude on a union meeting with advertisers that took place at the public library. Cappello didn't defend against this charge either and curiously, didn't call Millstein as a witness.

Apart from the question of whether the News-Press was guilty of committing unfair labor practices, the hearing put on trial the journalistic methods and ethics of the News-Press' owner. Veteran journalist Lou Cannon has shared his thoughts and I've posted them here.

Needless to say, Lou didn't think much of one of the paper's attempt in a recent editorial to draw a favorable comparison between McCaw and Katherine, Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post.

* * *

Yesterday was the last day at the paper for News-Press business reporter Maria Zate. She is taking a job with Cottage Care System.

* * *

And congratulations to Dawn Hobbs and Barney McManigal. Their applications for unemployment benefits were contested by the News-Press. An administrative law judge ruled in their favor and decided they were entitled to collect unemployment as a result of their terminations by the paper. The News-Press appealed. The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board rejected the paper's grounds and upheld the award of benefits.

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