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Duct Tape Protest
Thursday July 14, 2011

Fifth Anniversary of the July 14, 2006 Duct Tape Protest at the Santa Barbara News-Press

Five years ago today, the Santa Barbara News-Press duct tape protest made international news as the paper spiralled into what would become known as the "News-Press Mess." We are going to mark the fifth anniversary with a Rally for Workers' Rights on July 28 from noon-1 p.m. in De la Guerra Plaza. Folksinger B Willing James will perform songs by Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan in support of the reporters who were illegally fired and those who are continuing to stand up for their rights inside the News-Press. Speakers at the rally will include several of the illegally fired News-Press reporters; veteran journalist Lou Cannon, and former Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum.

The News-Press Meltdown, as it is called locally, began on July 5 and 6, 2006, when five top editors resigned from the paper, alleging that Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire owner, was improperly meddling in news coverage, in part by arbitrarily disciplining her own reporters and editors.

In September of that year, seeking to protect their professional integrity and job security, the newsroom employees voted overwhelmingly to join the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Within four months, McCaw illegally fired eight reporters, all of them union activists, a ratio of one out of every four newsroom employees who voted for the union. In 2008, she illegally fired a ninth reporter, a member of the union's negotiating team. In the meantime, McCaw's representatives have wasted nearly four years pretending to negotiate for a fair contract.

The News-Press is a case study of what can happen when a wealthy employer is willing to break the law to mount an all-out assault on her employees' rights, and it is right in line with the current attacks on union workers in the Midwest. McCaw is one of the most blatantly anti-union employers in California today. She has lost three trials before federal administrative law judges, racking up no fewer than 25 violations of labor law, including harassing, threatening and spying on union supporters. In 2007, a federal judge ordered McCaw to reinstate eight of the fired reporters with back pay; and in 2010, she was ordered to reinstate the ninth. She has delayed justice by appealing to the National Labor Relations Board to reverse those decisions. A judge last year found the News-Press guilty of bargaining in bad faith, but McCaw has appealed that decision, too.

Since mid-2006, more than 70 News-Press journalists have quit the paper or been fired, an exodus in which replacement employees themselves have left and been replaced. The newsroom staff has shrunk by more than half. More than 16,000 News-Press readers have cancelled their subscriptions, a drop of nearly 40 percent. Many local businesses have withdrawn their ads.

McCaw's attempts at union-busting are thuggish and un-American. She has hired eight law firms to try to keep the Teamsters out of her newsroom, derailing successful careers and running her business like a petty tyrant. The union will continue its boycott of the News-Press until McCaw signs a fair contract with her newsroom employees. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

--Committee for a Fair Contract in the News-Press Newsroom

CHRONOLOGY: October 2000: Wendy McCaw buys the Santa Barbara News-Press from the New York Times. April 2006: McCaw names herself co-publisher with her fiance, Arthur von Wiesenberger. July 5-6, 2006: Five top editors resign, along with veteran columnist Barney Brantingham. July 14, 2006: Silenced by a gag order, newsroom employees hold a "duct tape" protest in De la Guerra Plaza. Sept. 27, 2006: Newsroom votes 33-6 to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. October 2006 - February 2007: McCaw fires eight reporters, all of them union activists. March 2007: A federal labor law judge rejects McCaw's challenge of the union election. November 2007: Negotiations begin for a fair newsroom contract. December 2007: A federal labor law judge finds McCaw guilty of illegally firing eight reporters in retaliation for union organizing. He orders their immediate reinstatement, but McCaw appeals. August 2008: McCaw illegally fires a ninth reporter, a member of the union negotiating team. May 2010: A federal labor law judge finds McCaw guilty of illegally firing that reporter and orders his immediate reinstatement. The judge also finds McCaw guilty of bad-faith bargaining and orders her immediately to start bargaining in good faith with her newsroom. She appeals and continues merely to pretend to negotiate to this day.

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