NLRB Assault on First Amendment

Labor board seeking to sanction newspaper despite court ruling

June 11, 2013

The National Labor Relations Board is attempting to sanction a California newspaper despite a federal appeals court’s decision that such a ruling threatened the publisher’s First Amendment rights.

The NLRB ordered the Santa Barbara News-Press to reimburse several employees who were dismissed in 2006 from their positions for biased reporting, among other infractions. The fired employees contended that the newspaper threatened "journalistic integrity" and that they were fired because of their attempts to organize under the banner of the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The NLRB’s order contradicts a December 2012 D.C. Court of Appeals ruling that found the newspaper was within its First Amendment rights to fire its writers.

"The First Amendment affords a publisher—not a reporter—absolute authority to shape a newspaper’s content," the appeals court ruled [emphasis theirs]. "‘Journalistic integrity,’ as conceived by the board and the reporters, requires a publisher’s cession of some of its editorial control, the First Amendment precludes government coercion in its name."

News-Press director of operations Don Katich said the board was working to undercut the court in order to please the union.

"The NLRB’s continual assault on the News-Press appears to be yet another overreaching action by a federal bureaucracy that is obsessed with its own power, accountable to no-one, and willing to subjugate the rule of law and constitutional rights to further its unholy partnership with the union," he said.

A majority of newsroom workers voted to join the Teamsters in September 2006, two months after the firings. However, the May 31 NLRB decision came two weeks after reporters at the newspaper voted to withdraw from the Teamsters.

Some members of the newsroom told the Washington Free Beacon that the union had begun to focus more on punishing the paper’s publisher, Wendy McCaw, and less on advocating in the interest of reporters.

"It was needed," said one News-Press reporter, who spoke to the Free Beacon on condition of anonymity. "Many people in the newsroom, especially reporters, felt like the Teamsters encouraged people to leave."

The board also ordered the newspaper to pay the Teamster’s negotiating expenses. The union, which did not respond to request for comment, is working to block the NLRB’s regional office from recognizing the newsroom’s decision.

Katich said the same labor laws that allow employees the right to join a union give them the right to leave.

"The actions by the employees to withdraw recognition of the union is a matter solely between the employees and union and to suggest otherwise is nothing more than a sign of desperation," he said.

The NLRB’s order ignored the vote taken by News-Press employees, saying the "12-month extension of the Union’s certification year ordered by the board is the traditional remedy for the kind of bad-faith bargaining in which the respondent engaged in this case."

The NLRB has yet to review the News-Press’ decertification vote, a process that can take as long as a year. Katich called on the board to honor the wishes of the employees rather than the interests of the politically powerful union.

"The Santa Barbara News-Press expects the NLRB to honor the rights exercised by the newsroom employees to withdraw recognition of the Teamsters and end its assault on the First Amendment rights of the media."

Full Disclosure: Bill McMorris worked for the Santa Barbara News-Press from September 2008 to May 2009.

Published under: Big Labor , NLRB