Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ouch! D.C. Circuit Court Hands News-Press Journalists Big Defeat

Well, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, just gave News-Press owner Wendy McCaw an early and rather large Christmas gift. It ruled that she was within her rights in having eight reporters fired even though the National Labor Relations Board had determined those firings were in retaliation for their union activities.

The decision of the court takes the position that the News-Press controversy represents a conflict between the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and the First Amendment right to freedom of the press, and in such a conflict the NLRA must yield to the First Amendment. The court said that employees who are protected by the NLRA when it comes to bargaining over wages, hours and working conditions cannot extend that protection by throwing in unprotected claims (requests for more editorial control) with protected claims (a wage claim for example.)

I thought the National Labor Relations Board had done a good job of making that distinction and protecting the rights of workers while respecting the publisher's right to editorial control. But the D.C. Circuit seems to think this is all too difficult and evidently would rather not be bothered.

In terms of ever getting their jobs back, this is probably the end of the line for the eight fired reporters. A request for rehearing before the full bank of judges sitting on the D.C. Circuit could be made, or they could skip that step and petition the U.S. Supreme Court for review. However, as a court that gets to pick it choose the cases it considers, review by the Supremes is a long shot.

I'm all for freedom of the press, even when the primary beneficiaries of that freedom are the wealthy and powerful. But is it really okay to say to employees if you have any complaints about your wealthy newspaper publisher boss, you best keep quiet about it because no one is going to be able to protect your job?