A federal agency has filed a complaint against the Santa Barbara News-Press, claiming the newspaper retaliated against employees who wanted to join a union.
The National Labor Relations Board released the findings of its four-month investigation late Wednesday.
It concluded the newspaper fired a reporter, issued two-day suspension notices to 11 employees and canceled a weekly column written by a staffer because it wanted to discourage workers from engaging in union activities.
"We believe we have sufficient evidence to allege a violation," said Tony Bisceglia, a labor board spokesman.
It's the first time the labor board has taken action against Ampersand Publishing, the company that owns the News-Press. Management and workers have been feuding for several months about whether events leading to a Sept. 27 union election were conducted properly.
Employees voted 33 to 6 to join the union.
An administrative law judge will hear arguments Feb. 26 about the allegations in the complaint. A ruling against the newspaper could bring a range of orders, including reinstating the fired reporter and giving back pay to the employees involved.
David Millstein, the paper's general counsel, said he was confident the accusations would be found to be without merit.
"The News-Press welcomes the opportunity to have these issues heard as part of due process by the administrative law judge, and intends to further demonstrate that the management decisions in question were fair, consistent and undertaken for legitimate and lawful reasons," Millstein said.
A labor board hearing has been set for Jan. 9 to hear a separate objection filed by the newspaper over the union election.
There also are two pending cases filed with the board against the union. Four unfair labor practice claims filed against the paper were withdrawn by the union last week.
The dispute follows the departure of more than two dozen newsroom employees over the last six months. Several top editors who quit in July say that publisher Wendy McCaw meddled in the newsroom.
McCaw has countered that the former employees had injected their personal views into news coverage. Former reporter Melinda Burns was named in the board complaint and was fired in October for allegedly supporting the union.
McCaw's spokeswoman, Agnes Huff, says Burns was let go because she injected personal bias into her reporting for at least five years, despite repeated warnings by her editors that it was unacceptable.
The board filing is the latest chapter in the News-Press saga.
Last week, the publishing company that owns the Santa Barbara News-Press sued a reporter who wrote a story for the American Journalism Review headlined "Santa Barbara Smackdown." The lawsuit accused reporter Susan Paterno of libel and product disparagement and called the story a "biased, false and misleading diatribe."
The American Civil Liberties Union last week sought to stop McCaw's attorneys from sending threatening letters to a Santa Barbara hairstylist who posted a sign reading "McCaw Obey the Law" in his shop.
The News-Press, founded in 1855, was bought by McCaw in 2000 from the New York Times Co. It publishes seven days a week and has a daily circulation of about 41,000.