Op-Ed: Wendy McCaw and the Abuse of Power

By Melinda Burns and Dawn Hobbs

The law is slowly catching up with Wendy McCaw, the multimillionaire owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, once a well-respected institution in our community.

Earlier this month, an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board ordered McCaw to pay $2 million to the Teamsters and nearly 50 newsroom employees, in restitution for labor law violations going back a dozen years.

It’s a big win – but with a big asterisk. If the past is any guide, McCaw will likely appeal the Sept. 4 ruling, delaying justice for even longer. The board’s General Counsel tallied up the hefty $2 million in “monetary relief” in 2018, and McCaw has been contesting that amount ever since. Why wouldn’t she continue the dilatory litigation she is so well-known for?

We wonder whether and when McCaw will ever be forced to pay a penny for mistreating her employees, much less agree to a union contract. Fourteen years after the summer of 2006, when the so-called “News-Press Mess” exploded and the newsroom voted overwhelmingly to join the Teamsters, there is still no end in sight to this scandal.

This month’s ruling comes during the runup to a critical Presidential election, giving our country the chance to change course and ensure a better future for working people. It’s a crucial reminder that when we vote for President, we are in effect voting for his appointments to administrative agencies, federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, where labor law is interpreted and – hopefully – upheld.

The Teamsters have been generous and steadfast in their pursuit of justice for the News-Press newsroom, but labor law, we know from bitter experience, is ineffective and weakly enforced. We are two of the eight reporters whom McCaw unjustly fired soon after the union vote; all eight of us lost our case for reinstatement and back pay at the Washington, D.C. federal appeals court in 2012. Under this latest ruling, we will each be paid between zero and $88. Rich employers who want to bust a union can thwart justice with relative ease.

In the present case, the NLRB found in 2015 that McCaw was liable for a host of “flagrant unfair labor practices” beginning in 2007 – including illegally laying off News-Press columnist Richard Mineards and firing sportswriter Dennis Moran; cheating newsroom employees out of their merit pay in retaliation for joining the Teamsters; denying them work by hiring temporary employees without negotiating with the union; and overall bargaining in bad faith. We remember how insulting it was to sit at the table while McCaw’s agents found a hundred different ways to say “no.”

In 2018, the union filed new charges against McCaw for bargaining in bad faith, for failing to provide merit pay and for doubling the cost of health care to newsroom employees without negotiating with the union. The Teamsters have been pressuring the NLRB to file contempt of court charges against McCaw, but under the current administration, the response has been lethargic.

Newsroom employees staged protests beginning in 2006 and organized a community-wide boycott of the paper after McCaw began firing reporters and refused to recognize the union. Photo by Melinda Burns.

McCaw and Trump

It comes as no surprise that McCaw endorsed President Donald Trump this Sept. 1 for a second term. In the 2016 campaign, she was one of the first daily newspaper publishers to do so, and proud of it. McCaw and Trump have so much in common: their immense wealth, their abuse of power, their contempt for journalists, their attacks on working people, and the sheer malice with which they have undermined democratic institutions and the rule of law. Here in Santa Barbara – ironically, one of the bluest of blue cities – you could say we knew Trump before there was Trump.

For us personally and for our community, it was a dramatic reversal of fortune. During that fateful summer of 2006, five of our top editors had resigned, alleging that McCaw was interfering in the newsroom and punishing reporters and editors in order to curry favor with her celebrity friends.

At the top of our careers, we knew we needed a union contract to protect our job rights and our bylines from McCaw’s arbitrary attacks. Confronted with her intransigence, we organized a community-wide boycott of the News-Press that continues strong today, thanks to the outrage and solidarity of our fellow citizens.

The NLRB ruled in our favor in 2011, based on findings of McCaw’s “widespread, general disregard for the fundamental rights of the employees,” but in the D.C. appeals court, a panel of three Republican appointees sided with McCaw’s ominous contention that we, as union members, were interfering with her First Amendment rights as publisher.

One of the judges on our case had previously voided the felony conviction of Oliver North in the Iran-Contra scandal; another had joined the court in tossing out the lawsuit of four Muslim former prisoners who were tortured at Guantanamo, stating that they were “non-persons.” The third had voted against the provision in the federal Voting Rights Act that reined in states with a history of suppressing the votes of people of color.

McCaw’s long game is well-suited to the Republican packing of the courts. Over time, she has hired a dozen law firms to fight the union. As she continued to flout the law, the Teamsters were forced to file charges on behalf of dozens of our former colleagues and those who came after us through the revolving door of a hostile workplace. McCaw has likely spent more in legal fees than the $2 million she now owes.

McCaw’s fanatic anti-union stance places her in a small but defiant minority of U.S. employers. To put it in perspective, consider that Brett Kavanaugh, the ultra- conservative U.S. Supreme Court justice, found McCaw liable in 2017 when he was serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., in an earlier phase of the very case that the administrative law judge ruled on this month.

Community members gathered in De la Guerra Plaza in July, 2011 for a rally on the fifth anniversary of what is popularly known as the News-Press Mess. Photo by Melinda Burns.

“Aggravated misconduct”

Dickie Montemayor, who works in the NLRB’s San Francisco branch, doesn’t mince words in his Sept. 4 order for $2 million in “monetary relief.” McCaw’s violations of labor law, he stated, “were so broad and numerous that the Board’s cease and desist portion of its order contained 17 separate paragraphs delineating the breadth” of her “unlawful conduct.”

The NLRB rarely mandates reimbursement of a union’s bargaining expenses, but because the board found that McCaw’s agents engaged in “aggravated misconduct” and “willful defiance” at the bargaining table, Montemayor ordered McCaw to pay the Teamsters $111,000 for the time and expense of fruitless negotiations.

In addition, Montemayor ruled that McCaw owes $550,000 in back pay and tax expenses to Mineards, who now writes for the Montecito Journal; and $157,000 to Moran, who was serving on the union’s negotiating team when McCaw fired him. In Mineards’ case, the NLRB ruled that McCaw broke the law by refusing to negotiate his layoff with the union.

McCaw “inflicted severe economic harm upon both Moran and Mineards, who were sent scurrying in an attempt to avoid financial ruin,” Montemayor stated.

Montemayor also ordered McCaw to pay $222,000 in lost merit pay to 31 employees, all but two of whom have long since been fired or fled the paper. And he said McCaw must pay $936,000 to 40 employees in order to make them “whole” for the work they lost while she hired temps as reporters.

We note that while the payout for some employees has been justly set at many tens of thousands of dollars, it won’t come in time for two of our former colleagues, the late Steve Malone, a photographer, and the late Sherrie Waggener, a newsroom clerk, who were each slated to receive more than $48,000.

Sadly, only about eight employees remain in the News-Press newsroom today, including two managers, compared to a staff that was 65 strong in 2006. But the six who are not managers are still represented by the union. Without the Teamsters and thousands of you former News-Press readers who cancelled your subscriptions years ago, there would be no one to hold McCaw accountable.

We can’t let the likes of McCaw and Trump trample on our rights for another four minutes, let alone another four years. Everything’s at stake on November 3rd.

Melinda Burns was a News-Press senior writer and worked at the paper for 21 years. Dawn Hobbs was a News-Press reporter for nine years. Together, they led the newsroom campaign to join the Teamsters in 2006, and the News-Press boycott that followed the union vote.

Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at ed@edhat.com. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat.

Melinda Burns

Written by Melinda Burns

Melinda Burns is an investigative journalist with 40 years of experience covering immigration, water, science and the environment. As a community service, she offers her reports to multiple publications in Santa Barbara County, at the same time, for free.

What do you think?


0 Comments deleted by Administrator

Leave a Review or Comment


  1. It is such a shame that our community is subjected to the abuses from Wendy and don’t forget her tag-a-long Arthur Von Sleaze! Oh how I long for the days of our local newspaper that doesn’t disparage the majority of its citizenry.
    How can we get our paper away from these monsters and into the hands of owners with integrity?!

  2. Such a shame Wendy didn’t choose someplace like Palm Beach, Florida to move to. How much better our community would be without her! We could possibly even still have a real newspaper had she not arrived and set about lording her divorce money over us.

  3. Good recap of a sordid story. I would think that Mrs. McCaw would find she is better off ending this prolonged battle that she is sure to ultimately lose. Instead, she seems to want to continue be a piñata for her former employees and many people in Santa Barbara. Fiesta is over Wendy. Pay the the money and sleep more soundly!

  4. You have no property right in the SB New Press. You start your own paper if you don’t like it. Others have and have found new audiences in town, besides the predictably liberal Independent: either online or in print, but no home delivery beside the N-P. The absurdity I can’t get my head around is employees thinking they own the content of someone else’s private enterprise operation. And calling it a moral imperative to take over this ownership role, without investing a single dime in its production. Just call me old fashion.

  5. Sara Miller McCune very publicly claimed she was going to ” buy the NewsPress” and she has the means to do it. But she didn’t; nor did she fund a viable alternative with her pack of former N-P loyalists. Proving words of protest come cheap, but actually putting a paper into production and delivering it door to door is quite another thing. Carry on N-P, you have your fans and hope you weather these grim times. You were right in 2016 when the world was against you; and now many have learned from the wisdom of your convictions to continue in 2020.

  6. BYZ: If memory serves, Mrs. McCaw refuses to even discuss selling the paper. There are more than a couple of members of the community who would love to buy it and who have the financial means, but it’s been made clear that the N-P IS NOT FOR SALE.

  7. The News-Press is now so light now, that when it is delivered, it floats across the street to my neighbor’s where I have to retrieve it each morning. The only real news it prints are the obituaries, which is why my wife still takes the paper. The people who are listed in the obits have more life in them than the paper!

  8. One fact that we need to face is that newspapers are a dying enterprise. It is almost certain that the News Press is not profitable but the McCaw has kept it afloat to tote her reactionary views. That is OK but she still has to comply with the laws that society put in place to protect its members. She can control the views of its editorial positions of course but busting their right to organize to bargain is abhorrent. The former employees are heroic in keeping this battle alive. I am amazed by their fortitude.

  9. Former N-P employees were cheated out of nothing. When disgruntled NP employees demands cancelling any N-P subscriptions to punish their boss, is when the employees tried to deprive McCaw of income. Writers were unhappy, but readers were glad to see them gone. Locals were happy to see the N-P masthead not get sold to some sleazy LA tabloid publication at the time McCaw fronted her own money to rescue it. That too was part of the full SB NewsPress story. Thank you, Ms McCaw for keeping this in local hands. Thank you for letting us know you want the more robust Voices section back as badly as we do – that alone was worth the full price of subscription.

  10. Thank you, Melinda & Dawn! I’ve been awaiting your voices after reading news of the most recent decision. Hope you are doing reasonably well. Thank you for your efforts and perseverance. (A special warm greeting to Dawn. I’m your shelter acquaintance from the adoption of “Little Man,” we last spoke in a grocery store.) Best!

  11. I guess I’ve missed the point all these years concerning the reason for the hatred toward this newspaper and it’s owner. Here’s what I’ve heard: 1) She fired a number of people (her right to do I believe). 2) She does not want her employees to unionize (she’s the owner and does not want union employees….not illegal). 3) The newspaper “sucks” (not to enough people as it’s still in biz). 4) The editorial staff leans “right” (and 80% of the other papers in the US lean “left”….100% of the majors are left-leaning as well). 5) Her politics do not align with mine, the city, everyone, and so on (Her politics do not need to align with anyone’s politics). 6) She’s a terrible/horrible/lousy person in the opinion of those who hate her (can’t please everyone). Why are so many here obsessed with her and the NP? It does not seem healthy.

  12. Thomas, do you register the same editorial bias complaints against the Independent? Read widely and get a fuller picture – and be glad there is at least a chance to get a broader perspective in this one party “progressive” town. Sentinnel has at least one conservative column, but the former “conservative Montecito Journal took the wrong turn to the far left under its new leadership. So one does have to search far and wide to get even the slightest bit of ideological balance in this town – allowing more conservative voices to finally break through this community dialogue forum is also to be commended.

  13. Stupid rag of a “news” paper that does NOT represent the people of Santa Barbara. It’s really an embarrassment to a mostly progressive city to have this “Trump boot licker” in control of the only daily paper. I think so few people actually buy it anymore it’s got to be bleeding money. Hopefully she gives it up one day before print is completely obsolete. Thankfully we still have The Independent!

  14. The Independent needs to be held accountable for its failed 20 year political endorsement track record that has left this city and schools in shambles and leaking out gallons of red ink. What say you, Independent editorial board?

  15. Why are the “mostly progressive” denizens of this fair city so intolerant about having local media provide various political viewpoints? What frightens them. Besides being asked to face there indeed is a strong conservative element in town, which unfortunately has let their solid block of voting sentment get split in past elections. But it is there and it does need to be at the table in this “mostly progressive” (aka government employee union dominated) town. The local teacher union’s refusal to open public schools will definitely impact this year’s election, in this “progressive” town.

  16. Our legal system does provide three bites at the apple, because that is the best way to deliver justice. McCaw has evdery right to appeal these decisions to the highest court, which has ruled in her favor – honoring her first amendment free speech rights to control the content of her own paper. “Labor laws” are so fatally partisan, they too are ripe for reversal after further legal review.

  17. What a strong woman Wendy is. She was the only news paper in the nation that said trump would win. Thats when the polls showed 95% chance hillary would win. That takes guts.
    You go girl dont let these anti-women haters get you

  18. It would have been easier and less expensive for Ms. McCaw to follow the law, not unlawfully fire people, threaten them, stop merit raises, otherwise mistreat them, bargain in bad faith and have her underlings lie on the witness stand under oath. She chose that path, and will eventually face a final court order to pay her victims, a small recompense for all the damage she’s done, including to herself.

  19. Ms. McCaw stopped giving annual merit raises because the union came in. Same thing with her illegal use of temps, and her bargaining in bad faith, and her firing of employees. Those are illegal acts, with consequences, and injury to her victims. People don’t have to leave an employer because she’s a tyrant, a bully and a lawbreaker.

  20. McCaw won an earlier major appeal case on First Amendment grounds. This current one is for violation of draconian labor law technicalities at the lower NLRB level. So it is not over yet. But please in the meantime, don’t re-write history PitMix. McCaw has not lost every case. Just the opposite. McCaw pursues her legal rights to the fullest. And I say brava, because in the appeal process she does this for far more than just herself – she does this for legal principle.

  21. Josh Molina is the paragon of “progressive” political reporting and bias, so that does taint Noozhawk. Noozhawk tries to do better than the Independent and succeeds in many ways, but fails when it comes to local political reporting. Just as bad as Jerry Roberts and the Independent’s smug crew and owner. One does need to read widely, including keeping a finger on the pulse of edhat comments to get remotely close to a full spectrum of issues, and a hint of something other than the slanted progressive orthodoxy and liberal intolerance.

SB School Board Race: Candidate Forum Set for Thursday

Large Yacht Off Montecito Coast