Thursday, January 03, 2008

Victorious News-Press Journalists Have Their Day In The Sun

Current and former newsroom employees of the Santa Barbara News-Press appeared in De la Guerra Plaza on Wednesday afternoon and held a press conference, or as former sports columnist John Zant put it "our end-zone celebration."

He quickly acknowledged that some might point out that if the unionized newsroom employees' battle with owner Wendy McCaw really was a football game it's probably only the second quarter but that the union intended to "run up the score."

Mostly he and his colleagues, who could be described as "the newsroom staff in exile," seemed to be there to bask in the sunlight both literally (it seemed like an unusually warm afternoon out on the Plaza for the second day of January) and figuratively as local print and broadcast media, who showed up to get filled in on what happens next in the employee vs. management saga, were joined by some of the most faithful of a faithful group of supporters of the embattled journalists most of whom have been behind them from the very beginning.

The News-Press has vowed to appeal the ruling of an administrative law judge who without a hint of equivocation found that the News-Press had violated federal labor law in firing and disciplining employees who sought to exercise their right to unionize.

Indeed the News-Press will have 30 days to file "exceptions" to the judge's ruling with the National Labor Relations Board.

The paper's attempt to characterize Kocol's decision as mere "recommendations" may be technically correct but it's really like saying that the presidential election this country will hold in November really doesn't count for anything because after all it's the Electoral College who really selects the President.

No administrative board is going to second guess Kocol on his factual findings and given the judge's impressive display of a command of labor law I seriously doubt he's going to be reversed on that either.

Once affirmed by the NLRB, the News-Press can seek refuge by resorting to a federal court of appeals. That would be their only appeal that is a matter of "right." Any attempt to take this matter to the U.S. Supreme Court is probably doomed to failure. I have no doubt the News-Press will ultimately petition that court to review the case but the Supremes are under no obligation to entertain the matter. The Supreme Court picks and chooses the cases it wishes to hear and ultimately only places on its calendar a small percentage of all of those cases where a request is made to have them considered.

That's the lawyer-like answer to the question "can Wendy take this all the way to the Supreme Court?" The succinct answer is "it ain't gonna happen."

In the meantime the union plans to be pro-active. Union lawyer Ira Gottlieb confirmed that the union plans to renew its request that the NLRB go to federal court for the purpose of getting an injunction that would require the News-Press to immediately rehire and reinstate the fired reporters.

That effort failed last June by a 3 to 2 vote but things have changed since then. For one, the composition of the NLRB has changed but perhaps more significantly the procedure has changed. The Board has now delegated its authority to seek injunctions to its General Counsel who sits in Washington D.C. and the last time around the General Counsel was recommending that an injunction be pursued, but it was the Board who vetoed it.

So McCaw can stall and drag out the appeal process as long as she wants but if an injunction is issued it could be "game over" in terms of her efforts to keep the fired reporters out of the building. According to Gottlieb, the injunction process would take about four months.

So will the reporters actually choose to return to work if offered their jobs back? "I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it" was Zant's response when I asked that question of him. He explained that had he not been fired over the bridge incident last February Wendy's smear of Jerry Roberts in April might have caused him to quit of his own volition.

Former reporter Melissa Evans, who is currently working for a newspaper in the L.A. area, also told me that she wasn't sure whether or not she would actually accept her old job when it is offered to her.

Melinda Burns on the other hand is definitely ready to come back. She told me that she loves Santa Barbara and loves her job and has no interest in going elsewhere to pursue her career. Besides, she pointed out, "there aren't a lot of journalism jobs to be had anywhere else these days."

While the news conference took place in the middle of De la Guerra Plaza, two guards stood sentinel duty near the doors to the News-Press building keeping an eye of the crowd. Did they really expect that people would try to storm the building?

For pictures of Wednesday's rally/news conference see the photo gallery at Edhat.

And you can also check out John Palminteri's video report for KEYT.

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