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Paper fires 6 for protest at freeway

February 07, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Six newsroom employees of the Santa Barbara News-Press were fired this week after they and several former employees hung a large banner over a freeway urging subscribers to boycott the newspaper.

The banner, displayed Friday from a bridge over the 101 Freeway, asked motorists to cancel their subscriptions. The protesters also held signs saying "Protect Free Speech."

Although News-Press employees voted last fall to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a lawyer for the newspaper said the protest was not a union organizing activity protected by law.

Federal labor law rulings have determined a company cannot be forced to keep workers who actively attempt to harm it financially, said A. Barry Cappello.

"A worker cannot collect wages from an employer and at the same time engage in activities that aim to destroy the employer's business," Cappello said.

Ira L. Gottlieb, an attorney for the Teamsters unit selected to represent reporters, photographers and other News-Press journalists, said the firings were another example of heavy-handed tactics by the editors and managers to control the staff.

"It's clear the News-Press is not interested in abiding by the law and sitting down and doing collective bargaining," Gottlieb said. "It seems to be out to rip the newsroom apart, regardless of the law."

Gottlieb said almost half of the newsroom's nearly 60 people resigned or were fired since last summer when tensions between employees and Publisher Wendy McCaw boiled over.

McCaw, a billionaire, intervened to kill a story about the drunk driving sentencing of the editorial page editor and reprimanded staff for publishing the address of the site where actor Rob Lowe intended to build a mansion.

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greg.griggs@latimes.com

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