Friday, October 16, 2009

Teamsters Continue to Give Wendy the What For

I had parked my car behind City Hall on Wednesday evening and was heading over to State Street in search of a happy hour beer and a taco when I caught sight of them on the other side of Anacapa Street. Two Teamsters standing on either end of a large yellow sign that said, "Something Stinks at the News-Press" and "McCaw Obey the Law." They were positioned directly in front of and across the street from the driveway exit of the News-Press parking lot.

The courts may have forgotten about Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw and the reporters that she fired but the Teamsters sure haven't.

Seeing them standing there was a total surprise. No one had issued a press release announcing that they were coming and no one tipped me off to the fact that they would be there. It's hard out here for a blogger.

I went over to say hello to Marty Keegan, the organizer for the Graphic Communications Conference of the Teamsters.

Had the paper's management seen them? Oh yeah.

He said that earlier in the day, co-publisher and royal consort Arthur von Wiesenberger (otherwise known as the best-kept man in Santa Barbara) had emerged from the building and spotted them. Keegan said he could see the veins in his neck bulge out from a distance of across the street and the width of the parking lot. Arthur pulled out of the driveway in a BMW but he must have gotten on his cell phone as he headed down the street. Within a few minutes Keegan saw city editor, Scott Steepleton, armed with a camera, coming out of the building and marching directly towards him.

It is believed to be one of the few occasions that Steepleton has set out of the building on foot without his destination being a place that has either the words "fat" or "burger" in its name.

Within moments, Keegan found himself up close and personal with the angry editor. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "Why did you pick this day?"

Keegan told him it was because it was raining yesterday, otherwise they would have been there a day earlier.

From the way Keegan described how Steepleton was getting in his face it must have looked like an angry baseball manager arguing a disputed call with an umpire. No body contact, but Steepleton was close enough for Keegan to examine every filling in his mouth and give an expert opinion on what he had consumed for lunch that day.

As he recounted the story, Keegan motioned to a News-Press security guard who was standing behind us in the News-Press lot on the east side of Anacapa who was paying close attention to our every move. I wondered if the guard was there to keep Keegan and fellow Teamster John Peralta from storming the News-Press building or to call 911 in the event Steepleton busted a carotid artery.

As we spoke, passing drivers would honk their horns or give the thumbs up sign. During the short time I was there I didn't witness any one-finger salutes, Bronx cheers of California raspberries coming from behind the wheel. And, if I had seen any such behavior, I would have no way of knowing whether it was directed at the Teamsters or me.

Whatever you may think of the Teamsters, you have to acknowledge their dedication and willingness to hang in there. For over three years they've fought on behalf of a relatively small number of journalists against a well-financed McCaw who has proven to be ruthless in her determination to vanquish any employees who dare to stand up for their rights.

The Teamsters have kept fired reporters like Dawn Hobbs and Melinda Burns in their homes and out of the bread line while the courts take their sweet time to decide their fate.

Three years into this battle it's become clear that the judicial system has become an unwitting accomplice to McCaw, who must figure that given her vast personal wealth, she has time working in her favor.

While negotiations at the bargaining table have dragged out for two years the case seems to have fallen into a judicial black hole.

"McCaw obey the law?" How about, "Your honor, rule on the law!"

Lengthy waits to have hearings. Even longer waits for rulings after hearings have concluded. Interminable appeals following rulings.

This case needs a Ray Charles. Someone who can do for the law what Ray did for music: "Make it do what it do, baby."

Keegan told me he is hopeful that there will be a ruling by Thanksgiving from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on whether McCaw must reinstate the fired reporters.

If so, that would only be slightly short of two-years since an administrative law judge ruled that they were illegally fired and entitled to get their jobs back.

No wonder Wendy, Arthur and Steepleton think that they can forget about the whole thing.

Trouble is, the Teamsters won't let them.
© 2009 by Craig Smith and