Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Cheap Opinions and Cheaper Shots

It was only a matter of time but the negotiations between Wendy McCaw's News-Press and the paper's newsroom employees who are represented by the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters Union have spilled out of the meeting room and onto the editorial pages of the paper.

Last Friday editorial page editor Travis Armstrong used his op-ed page column to belittle the union's efforts to come to an agreement with the paper.

It is astounding how personal Armstrong gets when it comes to the union representatives on the other side of the bargaining table. Admittedly, this is the first union negotiation I've ever been interested in closely following, but I can't imagine an employer who is sincerely bargaining in good faith, as Armstrong asserts the News-Press is, doing anything as counter productive as this in the midst of a negotiation.

Despite all of his chest thumping, Armstrong's column answers a few questions some of us on the outside might have been asking ourselves lately.

Question 1. How badly does the News-Press want to prejudice the community against the Teamsters Union?

Bad enough that instead of hiding this column behind their notorious "pay wall" on their website where it is only available to subscribers of the paper, they are making it available for free in their "commentaries" section for anyone to read in its entirety.

Question 2. Was NLRB judge William Kocol off the mark when he gave little or no credence to Armstrong's testimony when he appeared before him in last summer's unfair labor practice hearings?

You might recall that Kocol wrote last December that Armstrong's testimony "seemed exaggerated, more to make a point than to relay the facts."

Armstrong's twisting of some known facts in this latest column would only seem to bolster Kocol's assessment of his demeanor as a witness as "not particularly impressive."

Consider these statements from Armstrong in the column:

"I've been sitting at the negotiation table for the News-Press in talks with the union that believes it represents newsroom reporters, photographers and copy editors."

"Believes" it represents? There are a lot of things in this nearly two-year old dispute that may be rightly or wrongly disputed but the legitimacy of the union as the duly elected representative of the newsroom employees is not one of them. Newsroom employees voted 33 to 6 in favor of being represented by the Teamsters. The paper challenged that vote only to have it upheld by an administrative law judge. It appealed that judge's finding to the National Labor Relations Board who upheld it. With appeals on that issue exhausted I'd say it's beyond being a matter of "belief" but instead is an established fact.

Armstrong used the column to take a swipe at union attorney Ira Gottlieb, but apparently the worst thing Armstrong could think of to denigrate him with was to claim that during last summer's labor hearings Gottlieb "drove up from L.A. in his foreign luxury car."

What Armstrong didn't tell you in the column was that the "luxury" car he was referring to was a 2002 Volvo.

Now a Volvo is a nice car but not one I'd put in the "luxury" category. And while we're on the subject of (as they say in the 'hood) "whips" I'd point out that Armstrong drove over to the hearings every day from the News-Press building in a late model Jaguar, so in my book the concours d' elegance sweepstakes trophy goes to Armstrong.

Not escaping Armstrong's attention was the Union's chief negotiator, Nick Caruso, who Armstrong took pains to point out is flown in every month from Minnesota by the Teamsters.

Of course Armstrong didn't mention the fact that the News-Press flies its chief negotiator in these negotiations, attorney Michael Zinser, in every month from Nashville, Tennessee.

Question 3. When will all this pettiness about who is driving what and flying in from where cease?

Apparently no time soon. Armstrong wrapped up his column with a promise to "go into more details in future columns about the talks."

I can hardly wait.

* * *

When the next big earthquake strikes this area I have a pretty good idea of how the lead to the story in the News-Press reporting on it will begin:

The epicenter of the of the 6.2 magnitude quake was in the Pacific Ocean, seven miles west of Santa Barbara, California, where voters once tossed city council member Brian Barnwell out of office.

The News-Press never passes up an opportunity to regurgitate anything that might be the least bit embarrassing to Barnwell and his wife, Camilla Cohee, a former reporter for the paper, so don't be so sure that my prediction is far fetched.

The latest example was in Armstrong's op-ed column which appeared in last Thursday's paper where Armstrong reported that Barnwell's adult son recently appeared in court on a charge of battery.

(And no, Armstrong didn't say what kind of car he arrived at the courthouse in.)

In the event the younger Barnwell is eventually cleared of the charges I'm sure that Armstrong will be the first to report it, and cheerfully to boot.