National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

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National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million
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Dawn Hobbs and Barney McManigal, News-Press reporters who were later fired by co-publisher Wendy McCaw, lead a protest in downtown Santa Barbara in late 2006. Twelve years later, the National Labor Relations Board wants McCaw to pay $2.2 million to compensate dozens of employees whom she cheated of their wages and merit pay. (Photo by Melinda Burns)

By Melinda Burns and Dawn Hobbs

In the unprecedented 12-year battle over workers’ rights at the Santa Barbara News-Press, we can declare a small but crucial victory.

The National Labor Relations Board announced this month that it will seek $2.2 million in “monetary relief” for dozens of newsroom employees who were mistreated by Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire owner and co-publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press.

It’s about time.

The board wants McCaw to pay $936,000 to “make employees whole” because she illegally hired nonunion temporary workers and freelancers. She also would owe $705,000 in back pay for two employees whom she illegally laid off or fired; $222,000 for employees whose merit pay she illegally suspended, and $186,000 to reimburse employees for any tax increases linked to these one-time paybacks.

In addition, the board wants McCaw to reimburse the Teamsters for $183,000 in expenses that the union incurred during its fruitless contract negotiations with the News-Press from 2007 to 2012, while seeking a fair contract for newsroom employees.

The names of past and present newsroom beneficiaries have not been made public. The board’s proposal does nothing for eight of us News-Press reporters who were unfairly fired by McCaw soon after September 2006, when the newsroom voted to join the Teamsters. Our careers were derailed; our lives were disrupted. Still, we’re pleased that some current newsroom employees and many of our colleagues who left the paper may be compensated in some measure for what they lost.

On Sept. 25, 2018, the board will hold a hearing in Los Angeles, at which the News-Press may object to the proposed compensation.

The calamity known as the News-Press Mess exploded on the scene in the summer of 2006, making international news. Five top editors and columnist Barney Brantingham resigned on July 5 and 6 that year, alleging that McCaw was interfering in the paper’s newsgathering and news reporting on behalf of her celebrity friends.

A frantic exodus of newsroom professionals and a massive subscribers’ boycott have since reduced the News-Press, once a respected institution, to a paper that people will proudly tell you they wouldn’t think of reading, and fish will indignantly tell you they don’t want to be wrapped in.

Under these circumstances, a $2.2 million nick in McCaw’s vast fortune is not cause for much celebration. As far back as 2006, before McCaw fired the eight of us (one in four newsroom employees who voted for the union), we were fighting for basic job rights and byline protections, and we organized a community-wide boycott to force McCaw to recognize the Teamsters. McCaw falsely claimed we eight were trying to take over the newsroom, in violation of her First Amendment rights as publisher.

Bizarrely, in a taste of things to come, a panel of three federal judges in the Washington, DC Court of Appeals, appointees of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, sided with McCaw.

Faced with another slew of labor law violations, including bad-faith bargaining and illegally suspending merit pay in retaliation for the union vote, McCaw again tried to wrap herself in the First Amendment. But she failed last year on appeal in the same DC court.

It is very difficult to prove that an employer is bargaining in bad faith, but this case was a slam-dunk. We can personally attest to how insulting it was to sit at the negotiating table and listen to McCaw’s corrupt agents say “no” in a hundred different ways as the hours and months rolled by. They demanded contract terms that were literally worse than no contract at all.

So, for us, it’s sweet: McCaw, who took out full-page ads smearing the Teamsters and hired more than 10 lawyers to try, unsuccessfully, to keep the union out, has been ordered by the labor board to return to the bargaining table. The multimillionaire publisher who hates unions and once editorialized against the minimum wage might actually sign a Teamster contract with a decent pay scale and basic protections for newsroom employees.

A while back, under board orders, one of McCaw’s managers had to stand in front of the newsroom alongside a federal board agent and listen while the agent read aloud the employees’ rights to be represented by the Teamsters and to be free from McCaw’s law-breaking ways.

Finally, looking beyond the present board proposal, McCaw will be required to pay back the share of health care costs that she illegally forced her newsroom employees to shoulder. The board has found McCaw to be liable for that money; the exact amount is still under review. The law requires employers to negotiate workers’ share of health care costs with the union that represents them.

Through it all, we’ve learned a bitter truth about American labor law: it’s so weak that a rich anti-union employer can game the system and stave off justice for more than a decade … and counting. We’ve watched with rising alarm, in recent years, as politicians and pundits attack and deride journalists from the highest echelons of American power. Now Supreme Court judges are distorting the First Amendment to undermine labor law. It’s all déjà vu for us.

But we’re glad the courts have finally caught up with our former publisher. We used to picket the News-Press with signs that said, “McCaw Obey the Law!” – and now she will have to.

For this, we owe a debt of gratitude to the good people of the South Coast who cancelled their News-Press subscriptions and never went back, and to the true-blue Teamsters who taught us the real meaning of solidarity. To these “forever” friends, we say: Thank you for never letting us down.

# # #

Melinda Burns and Dawn Hobbs worked at the News-Press for 21 and nine years, respectively. They led the newsroom campaign to join the Teamsters in 2006, and the News-Press boycott that followed.


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a-1569176436 Jul 30, 2018 11:44 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

The Trump endorsement is simply unforgivable. 10/7/16 "Largest reported circulation" of paper: 21,245 Per Wikipedia ============================================================================ How does it keep afloat?! It MUST be her $$. 21K circulation?! Wow. ============================================================================ "Trump received endorsements from only 20 daily newspapers and six weekly newspapers nationwide, of which only two, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union, had circulations of above 100,000. The small number of endorsements received by Trump was unprecedented in American history for a candidate from a major party..."

a-1569176436 Jul 30, 2018 11:06 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

" The board’s proposal does nothing for eight of us News-Press reporters who were unfairly fired by McCaw soon after September 2006, when the newsroom voted to join the Teamsters." What the??? Thank you, Melinda & Dawn! I have always and still support you. (Dawn, we last ran into each other in the grocery store; I helped you adopt Little Man. :-))

cherplan Jul 25, 2018 02:56 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

I am extremely pleased for our reporters who received a win in the D.C. Court, but after 12 yrs. I re-subscribed to the paper and found that it was a news aggregator with many Reuters and Tribune objective articles. I don't read the obviously right wing editorials, but I find that today's News Press has many 'left wing' articles which I enjoy. So perhaps it is time to forgive and forget and get back to local news and Reuters articles which now make up the paper.

PitMix Jul 26, 2018 02:47 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

I only read right wing pundits that are not trying to expand the oligarchy that exists in our Country. However, they are few in number. Having the LA Times allow people like John Woo who authored the torture memo under the Bush administration to write op-eds is sickening.

Macscidor Jul 26, 2018 10:03 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Point well-taken here. Thanks Curmudgeon. In truth, I focus on educational articles and leave the "political stuff" aside. We hear a lot from the "two sides" daily. My main interests are the in-between topics. But, I always remember reading a sentence from a well-known author, (something like) "the other side has some good ideas" -- so I have been open to hearing about those -- for years. And, my News-Press subscription pays for both/many topics. Hail to the writers.

Curmudgeon Jul 26, 2018 09:29 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

When folks purposely do not read "right wing" or "left wing" commentary it undermines the underpinnings of Western philosophical thought as established by the Greeks, to wit: "Greek philosophy opened the doors to a particular way of thinking that provided the roots for the Western intellectual tradition. Here, there is often an explicit preference for the life of reason and rational thought." From this evolved the "Socratic Method," which seeks truth through continual questioning. To close the door to any side of an argument closes the mind as well! In that setting truth is the loser, to the detriment of us all.

Macscidor Jul 25, 2018 04:48 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Cherplan, THANK YOU for your post. I agree, the News-Press is an "aggregator with many Reuters and Tribune objective articles." I subscribe to the News-Press because 1) it contains many in-depth California-focused articles by Dan Walter; and 2) my subscription helps pay for News-Press and other writers. I appreciate writers. Some people (like me) willingly support many of the articles in the News-Press and want to help pay for (job) salaries. I, too, "don"t read the obviously right-wing editorials," but there are many topics of interest. One local writer submits fascinating (educational) articles on banking from time to time, and some local elected officials write articles to state specific historical facts and their opinions => all worth my time and money.

buckwheat Jul 25, 2018 02:49 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

The biggest problem with unions is the fact that they aren't as powerful as used to be such as they were in Chicago! The anti-union Supreme Court majority is shameful and has no respect for workers.

a-1569176436 Jul 30, 2018 11:26 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

"The biggest problem with unions is not recognizing the difference between public sector and private sector unions." ====================================================================== Please elucidate on the difference, thank you.

Factotum Jul 25, 2018 05:45 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

The biggest problem with unions is not recognizing the difference between public sector and private sector unions. Two totally different animals. Plus putting taxpayers on the hook for the huge public pension liabilities promised government employees. Government employee unions are not your grand-daddy's union fighting for child labor laws. They are a highly concentrated special interest group with a huge war chest they use to get union-friendly politicians to keep signing their paychecks. The Supreme Court did the right thing - these government employee unions (police, fire, teachers, etc) need to be voluntary, not mandatory, operations. Tax payers should not be forced to send checks to their union bosses every month.

mm1970 Jul 25, 2018 10:14 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

I hadn't realized/ remembered Melinda Burns from the News Press. I understand now why her reporting is top notch. Here's to hoping a finale to this mess. Though $2.2 million is not nearly enough. I boycotted the NP back when it all went down and haven't read it since.

RHS Jul 25, 2018 08:56 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

So upsetting to see an advocate for rectifying the apparent abuses of the News Press suggest that it be put out of "biz." Free speech is for all. Yes, this newspaper has become a mouthpiece for Libertarian/Tea Party rants but that is part of the dynamic of the competition for ideas. And as much as I respect these reporters, it does not honor to their position to see them use their journalistic talents to rant about their personal grievances. Certainly this is not a "news" report and unfortunately it is a poor service to education on this conflict. All this said, I will continue to read commentaries on this subject and others to further my knowledge of my environment and to fulfill my civic duty toward good governance.

salsa guy Jul 25, 2018 08:44 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Funny, but my friends who are so anti SBNPRESS don’t subscribe, but don’t pass up a chance to read it if it’s free. Hypocrites! Unions do nothing good for business ever, no matter what business field Why wasn’t there a Union when The NY Times owned the SBNPress? Could it be the Union thought Wendy would be an easier target?

a-1569176436 Jul 25, 2018 10:49 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

There were unions at the News-Press when it was owned by the New York Times. One of the publishers sent out by the NYT to oversee the local paper was Joe Tarrer. He had a reputation as a union-buster. Eventually, the unions at the paper disappeared.

PitMix Jul 25, 2018 10:23 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Could it be that maybe the NY Times treated the staff respectfully so they didn't need a union then. What an anti-union rant. Reading the SBNP for free is like looking at a wreck on the freeway, it's hard to pass by without checking out the accident and feeling lucky it wasn't you.

a-1569176436 Jul 24, 2018 10:03 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

While I agree with much of what Burns and Hobbs wrote here, I think that they are intentionally leaving out some information. Before Wendy bought the NP it was owned by the New York Times who would blatantly color the news coverage as they saw fit. For instance, in their never ending battle to Manhattanize Santa Barbara the New York Times owned Newspress was instrumental in stampeding the voters to approve State Water. I'm quite sure that Burns and Hobbs held their nose and wrote many of those stories. In fact the only writer who refused to go along was Barney Brantingham (to their credit the NP didn't fire him). Had Burns and Hobbs also stood up for 'fair and balanced' news coverage then I would have had more respect for their positions later.

Red Creek Jul 24, 2018 08:10 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

The news suppress (local term) continues to go downhill with deceptive headlines and burying of important news. It buys articles from the L.A. Times, so it is just easier to read Edhat , Nooshawk and the Indie and buy L.A, TImes online or in print for real (excellent) journalism. Very sad for our community to have a newspaper controlled by one person.

Factotum Jul 24, 2018 09:23 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

So start your own paper. NewPress is a breath of fresh air today - provocative reading - the Sunday Voices section is one of the best. You obviously have not read the N-P in a long, long time.

TomTomTomTom Jul 24, 2018 05:37 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

I have no dog in this race but 12 years is an very long time to keep a fight going. I think it would serve the ex employees well to let this stuff go and move on with their lives. After all it was a job they lost, not a violent, life changing and horrific event. Just a bad month or three... Most of us have been there. The reality is that the entire news business has shifted away from print. No amount of legally wrangling will change that fact or bring it back. Small market news is no longer a viable business.

a-1569176436 Jul 30, 2018 11:17 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

The employees have moved on, in some ways. They HAD to - to pay rent and feed themselves. It's Wendy McCaw who should give up the struggle. This was life-changing -- it's not a job like retail clerk, or a programmer who can easily switch jobs. The amount of passion evinced in this discussion shows that it's different, as does the praise of Melinda's recent work, published here and on other local sites. This issue was bad for a few years, and divided the community -- somewhat. Most sided with the employees.

ginger1 Jul 24, 2018 01:33 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Ms. McCaw's net worth is estimated at a half a billion dollars. $2.2 million is pocket change for less, less than the interest and dividends she gets on her investments. What she did to those employees was shameful and illegal. How she changed professional "fair and balanced" journalism into a pulpit for her conservative views is likewise shameful.

Flicka Jul 24, 2018 01:11 PM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

Thank heavens, this is good news. I grew up reading this paper, when I was too young to read my grandma read it to me. So sad to see an award winning paper fall so far and hard. When T.M. Stork still owned it he even won a Pulitzer.

SoCalMommy Jul 25, 2018 10:50 AM
National Labor Board Wants Wendy McCaw to Pay $2.2 million

And the remaining employees, who still show up and work hard every day, will be without jobs. Many have given 30, 40+ years of their lives to that company and are unable to just pick up and go find other work. The demise of this company is entertainment for some, tragedy for others. There is no win here.

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