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Employees Sue Santa Barbara Paper

October 12, 2006|From the Associated Press

SANTA BARBARA — About 200 past and current employees of the embattled Santa Barbara News-Press sued the paper Wednesday, contending that it failed to keep accurate time records and stiffed them out of overtime pay.

The suit alleges that the newspaper failed to pay overtime to employees who worked more than eight hours a day or more than 40 hours a week. It also alleges that the News-Press did not provide its employees with meal and rest periods that are required by California law.

"It is common for employers to unintentionally violate" technical portions of the state's employment laws, said plaintiffs' attorney Bruce Anticouni, who filed the lawsuit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court. "However, in my opinion, the alleged News-Press violations appear to have been willful, which would allow for the award of penalties to the affected employees."

The legal action marks the latest in a bitter dispute between News-Press employees and owner Wendy McCaw. Sixteen employees have resigned since July, when nearly every top editor quit amid complaints that McCaw had meddled in the newsroom.

McCaw's spokeswoman, Agnes Huff, said she could not comment because the newspaper's attorneys had not seen the lawsuit.

Last week, the newspaper filed objections with the National Labor Relations Board over a Sept. 27 election in which employees voted 33 to 6 to join the Graphic Communications Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The paper accused the union of coercing employees and circulating false and misleading information about the newspaper.

Attorney Ira Gottlieb, who represents the workers, rejected the contentions, saying the election had been conducted fairly.

Many of the employees who resigned said McCaw intervened to kill a story about the drunk-driving sentencing of editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, and reprimanded staff for publishing the address of the site where actor Rob Lowe wants to build a mansion.

McCaw has countered that the former employees had injected their personal views into news coverage.

The News-Press is a 41,000-circulation daily. It has about 50 newsroom employees.

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