She sent this letter to fellow newspaper owners.
Re: Unions Attempting to Take Away Your First Amendment Right to Control the Content of Your Paper
Dear Mr. (Publisher)
As owner and publisher of a small town newspaper (the Santa Barbara News-Press, circulation 35,000), I wish someone had alerted me to the tactics employed by unions as they attempt to organize newsrooms.
One of the tactics employed is to promise your employees that they will enjoy some measure of controlling the content of your paper as long as they join the union. The union promises that content control is a “term and condition of employment” and, therefore, is subject to bargaining. The union never bothers to tell the unsuspecting employees that this promise is empty or that the First Amendment guarantees that the owners/publishers are solely vested with the right to control content. I’d like to share with you what happened at the Santa Barbara News-Press so you can avoid a similar situation at your newspaper.
In the summer of 2006, the Teamsters union promised Santa Barbara News-Press reporters that if they joined the union they would be able to write what they wanted, when they wanted, without interference from management. In our case, this was an enticing promise since I had been actively attempting to stem biased reporting in our news coverage.
Throughout 2006 and 2007, the union demanded publicly that I relinquish my right to control what is printed in the Santa Barbara News-Press as part of union negotiations. The union used a series of pressure tactics including, a passing out of flyers at local city events decrying the “ethics” of the Santa Barbara News-Press; hanging disparaging signs on overpasses in Santa Barbara; calling and sending letters to advertisers telling them to stop advertising; picketing with signs containing vicious personal attacks on management, urging subscribers on television and radio to cancel their subscriptions-all this in an attempt to force management to agree to their demands.
Despite the financial toll it took on the paper and the emotional toll on the employees, I knew I could never relinquish my right to control the content of the paper.
After spending millions of dollars defending these rights against union attack, a federal judge finally decided the issue. On May 21, 2008, United States District Court Judge Stephen Wilson found publishers do have a First Amendment right to control the content of their publications and that “. The union was organized, in part, to affect (the publisher’s) editorial discretion and undertook continual action to do so.” In other words, unions have no right to dictate the contents of a newspaper and potential union members cannot use editorial content control as a bargaining chip in union negotiations.
The Santa Barbara News-Press’s situation is a cautionary tale for owners/publishers. We must never give up our First Amendment rights to speak and to publish. They are our rights as owners and publishers, not to be tossed aside in favor of others who would seek to control the content of our newspapers.
I hope that you find this helpful and I hope that you are able to use the Santa Barbara News-press’s experience to assist you in monitoring and protecting your paper and, from assault. If I can assist you or provide you with additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at 805.564.5165
Very truly yours,
Not that we’re lawyers, but we know that us telling you to shut up does not infringe on your rights to free speech. It’s the government telling you to shut up that’s a First Amendment issue. When the government does it – it’s unconstitutional. When a newspaper owner does it – it’s unethical. When a tyrannical newspaper owner claims that it’s done to her – it’s complete bullshit.