News Union sticks it to advertisers

Boycott bites the hand that feeds

The Teamsters, unhappy with the glacial pace of Santa Barbara (CA) News-Press contract negotiations, are urging advertisers to pull their ads and not only that, they are now handing out leaflets outside businesses, asking shoppers to boycott stores so long as they advertise with the News-Press.

Negotiations have gone on for nine months “with very little to show for it,” Teamster attorney Ira Gottlieb told me today. “We want the News-Press to bargain in good faith.”

On the Beat

In addition to the leafleting, which began Tuesday, July 8, Teamster officials have been talking to the advertisers, asking them to pull their ads or notify the paper that they will do so when their agreement expires.

The effort is aimed at goosing negotiations, which have moved so slowly that the running joke is that the entire polar ice cap will melt before the News-Press signs a contract. The two sides reportedly have remained polarized for months over key issues.

One of the union’s big concerns involves the paper’s current employment-at-will policy, which, as indicated in the paper’s employment handbook, means management can terminate or discipline “with or without cause.” The union, seeking to protect employees from arbitrary firings and discipline by fiercely anti-union McCaw, wants management to have to show just cause.

Newsroom employees voted overwhelmingly in September, 2006 to affiliate with the Teamsters, but owner Wendy McCaw has fought unionization bitterly and at great expense.

A common industry negotiations tactic is to string out talks by endlessly contesting every point until the employees give up or settle at terms favorable to management. On the other hand, boycotts of advertisers and urging subscribers to cancel are traditional union countermeasures.

The unionization effort began two years ago after the July 6, 2006 meltdown that saw the resignation of executive editor Jerry Roberts and other top editors and me. It has been costly to the Teamsters as well as to the many reporters and newsroom employees who quit during the chaos or were fired, allegedly for union activities.

Last December, following hearings here, Judge William Kocol ruled that the News-Press violated multiple federal labor laws, and ruled that the paper’s management would have to re-hire illegally fired employees and pay back wages, among other required remedies. But this is still in limbo because the newspaper appealed the decision.

It’s not known if the leafleting includes Sansum Clinic and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, but it does raise the question of why they need to spend money advertising at all, since they are virtual monopolies. Their “customers” seek them out by necessity.

The boycott effort also points to further ratcheting up of the fight between the company and the union. Neither side shows any sign of yielding, despite fast-mounting financial costs. The News-Press has lost thousands of readers and, apparently, ad revenue over the past two years. It has also fired or laid off a dozen or so workers in the past several weeks, blaming the union for its financial problems.

The meltdown that shocked the community resulted in mass subscription cancellations, but the paper has also been hurt by continuing industry-wide readership losses due to the Internet and other competition, and by the newspaper’s declining quality. The paper suffers from weak news coverage by a newsroom depleted by the loss of experienced staff, its reliance on temp workers, and by its inability or unwillingness to cover the news in a professional manner.


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