Wednesday, May 27, 2009

We Have All Been Here Before?

In the words of Yogi Berra, "it was deja vu all over again." Well almost.

Setting foot back in the hearing room for the start of another long trial on the issue of whether Wendy McCaw's Santa Barbara News-Press has yet again committed multiple violations of the National Labor Relations Act reminded me that few things have changed since I was last here nearly two summers ago.

Familiar faces: The lawyers. Steve Wyllie, lead attorney for the Office of General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board is once again responsible for "prosecuting" the charges. He is joined by a new face, his co-counsel Joanna Silverman. Also seated at his side of the counsel table is another familiar face, union attorney Ira Gottlieb, who himself is being assisted by someone new to the proceedings, co-counsel Marissa Nuncio.

On the other side of the table is the opposition. Barry Cappello is once again defending the News-Press. He's joined by a veteran of the hearing two years ago, co-counsel Dugan Kelley along with a relatively new associate from Cappello's office, Richard Sutherland. Also defending the News-Press is union busting attorney Michael Zinser from Memphis.

New face: The hearing is being presided over by administrative law judge Clifford H. Anderson, who works our of the NLRB's San Francisco office.

Anderson seems far more personable and approachable than William Kocol, the administrative law judge who presided over the hearing two years ago. That's not to say that he isn't firmly in command of both the courtroom and a wide body of labor law, because he obviously is. He also appears, judging by the paper cup that sits in front of him on the bench, a drinker of Peet's Coffee.

Unlike the first day of the last hearing, which had the feel of being a newsroom reunion given the mob of former employees of the News-Press who showed up in response to subpoenas that Cappello had papered the town with, the only non-participants in attendance Tuesday morning were the members of the Fourth Estate. And there weren't that many of us. Unlike the last time no photographers and no film crews.

Barney Brantingham and Matt Kettmann of the Independent were in attendance along with Eric Lindberg of the Daily Sound and Bill Lascher David Courtland of the Ventura County Reporter. And of course myself.

And no, the News-Press didn't send a reporter to cover its own hearing.

Nor did it send Travis Armstrong to sit in the front row of the gallery as the "management representative" of the paper.

So why were we all here? A new set of charges, which include bad faith bargaining, trying to circumvent the union by hiring temporary employees and claiming they weren't covered by the union, failing to bargain with the union before laying off gossip columnist Richard Mineards and discharging former sports reporter Dennis Moran for his union activity.

The allegations were outlined by Wyllie during his opening statement Tuesday morning. He was followed to the podium by Gottlieb who described the case as being about, "the employer's overarching desire to thwart the union."

After Gottlieb completed his opening remarks, it was Cappello's turn to outline his defense of the News-Press. At one point in describing to the judge the background of the long and contentious battle between the paper and the union, Cappello turned to those of us in the audience and said, "our competition is here ready to write nasty little stories about the News-Press."

Who, me?

In attempting to justify the firing of gossip columnist Richard Mineards, Cappello revealed that Mineards salary for cranking out one column a week was a cool $75,000 a year. At that point Barney Brantingham, who had 40 some odd years at the paper, a good portion of them as its signature columnist, leaned over and whispered in my ear, "I never got paid that much!"

Revelations like that kept it interesting, which was a good thing because Cappello gave the longest "15 minute" argument I've ever heard.

That argument was soon followed by the longest five minute recess I've ever witnessed. The judge had instructed the attorney's to use that time to try to work out some procedural matters. The "five minutes" eventually dragged out to half an hour but the extra time apparently did nothing to facilitate a resolution. The remainder of the day was consumed with pretrial motions. No witnesses were called.

The hearing will continue today (Wednesday) and through the remainder of this week and, at least, next week. (All sessions at the Santa Barbara College of Law, 20 E. Victoria Street) Other commitments will prevent me from giving this hearing the gavel-to-gavel treatment I gave the previous time around, but I do plan to drop in for at least a part of each day.

If you want "as it happens" updates from inside the hearing, sign up to follow me on Twitter. Otherwise, you can get the full wrap-up each morning here on my blog.

* * *

Although I didn't see it with my own eyes, a number of readers wrote to tell me about Tuesday's edition of the News-Press being delivered on thinner, narrower, and taller sized paper.

A check of the website revealed this explanation:

A late-night problem with a press resulted in today's Santa Barbara News-Press being printed on narrower-than-normal paper. The last-minute move to print today's edition elsewhere left the text smaller than normal and the photographs stretched a bit. Crews are working to fix the problem today.

How long will it be before the News-Press tries to blame the Teamsters for that "late-night problem?"
© 2009 by Craig Smith and