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Columnist

Teamsters union tries to censor these pages


June 6, 2008 7:48 AM

Can it be possible that the Teamsters union is actually trying to suppress our editorial pages? The labor group -- which has tried since 2006 to convince Santa Barbarans that it's a defender of free speech -- wants me to stop writing this type of opinion column on the union's negotiations with the News-Press.

It's just more of the group's attempts to try to wrest control of this paper from the owner and prevent the company's 1st Amendment right to freedom of press to be exercised.

As noted in a column last month, I've been sitting at the negotiation table for the News-Press in talks with the union that believes it represents newsroom reporters, photographers and copy editors. It's become clear to me that the rather self-interested objectives of discharged reporters -- Melinda Burns, Dawn Hobbs and Tom Schultz -- are different from the concerns of those in the newsroom today.

It's as if a small group of former employees have high-jacked the process for their own purposes and to pursue personal gripes.

This union and these former journalists for two years have been attempting to use the National Labor Relations Act to usurp News-Press owner Wendy McCaw's 1st Amendment protections and determine what's in the newspaper.

And, to decide what's not to be in the paper.

As News-Press attorney L. Michael Zinser wrote Thursday to Teamsters negotiator Nick Caruso:

"Unfortunately, your claim that Travis Armstrong, the editorial page editor, cannot publish something is part and parcel of the union's continuing campaign to try to control the content (of the) Santa Barbara News-Press. The union has no legal right to do so. Therefore, we do not believe the ground rule has been violated."

This latest tactic should come as no surprise. Throughout the unionization campaign at the News-Press, those behind it or supporting it have tried to portray themselves as champions of free expression and the 1st Amendment.

And in some cases, this couldn't be further from the truth.

For example, politicians Marty Blum and Susan Rose took to demonstrating in front of the newspaper in De la Guerra Plaza to try to silence the opinion pages. Their thin skins bristled at being held accountable on these pages for policy missteps and ethical lapses, with reporters such as James Rainey of the the Los Angeles Times failing their obligation to readers to sort out the true motives of these government leaders.

The union's bargaining committee, made up primarily of former journalists, wants to continue to try to censor the News-Press as evidenced by its demand that these columns stop.

As noted, though, trying to control the content of this newspaper is nothing new to these folks.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Wilson on May 21 rejected granting an injunction to force the newspaper to hire back a group of fired reporters. He took aim at the legal failings and erroneous conclusions of William Kocol, an administrative-law judge for the labor board, who ruled in favor of the former employees.

Judge Wilson wrote that in making this determination, the Kocol decision "did not acknowledge that the union campaign was not simply making general demands to restore journalistic integrity, but making a specific demand related to the content of the News-Press."

In fact, this was "a central demand of the union campaign continually backed from early on in its history of public demonstrations and a union-organized customer boycott putting pressure" on the newspaper.

Now they want to squelch what's in the News-Press. Yet the union committee or its supporters apparently have no trouble, in some way or another, writing about the talks and leaking letters or other information to the media or other outlets.

The self-proclaimed "defenders of free speech" want to play by their own set of rules, while trying to censor this column and decide what you can read about their behavior and tactics.

Travis Armstrong is the editorial page editor of the News-Press and host of a public affairs program heard live at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on AM 1290.

Travis Armstrong

It's just more of the group's attempts to try to wrest control of this paper from the owner and prevent the company's 1st Amendment right to freedom of press to be exercised.