Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Tampa Tribune: Shit. Printed Daily

Tampa Tribune publisher Gil Thelen is stepping down. He is not retiring. He will still work for Media General. A news site that places it's NYSE value on it's main page. It's nice to know where their priorities are.

Let's give Thelen the send off he deserves. Thelen had to publicly apologize for an editorial that declared that the Tampa Bay Lightning lost game 7 of the Stanley Cup.

But for ``reasons we don't understand now,'' he said, the wrong editorial was published. The newspaper is investigating how the error occurred. A corrected editorial will be published in Wednesday's Tribune, he said. The corrected editorial was published on TBO.com Tuesday morning.

The reasons might be the Trib assumming the Lightning were going to lose to lose and wanting to run the editorial so they could go home. Why wait for the outcome of the game?

Thelen also lost a case against Richard Banos. The United States Labor Relations Board found the Trib discriminated Banos by writing him up. The Trib was trying to get rid of the union workers. Banos won the case.

I find the General Counsel has established a prima facie case that the written warning issued to Banos was violative of the Act. Initially, I credit the testimony of Amstutz that Banos was loud and argumentative and that he stated that she loved to kiss her brother-in-law Jerry Eisley’s “ass.” I do not credit Banos’ denial that he made this statement. I credit the testimony of Pritchett and Stone that they did not hear this comment. I note Nebeker’s testimony that neither Amstutz nor Prichett informed her that Banos had made the comment attributed to Banos by Amstutz. I note also that the written warning does not specifically refer to this comment. I note also that Respondent did not call Garren who issued the warning to testify. I find Banos’ defense of his position regarding the performance of his job was part of the res gestae of his defense and was protected under the Act as his conduct was not so egregious as to deny Banos the protection of the Act. As in Media General Operations, supra I find that the place of the meeting in a management office and in the presence of two supervisors and only one employee who was there in his capacity as a union steward weighs heavily in favor of the protection of Banos’ conduct with respect to the first factor of the Atlantic Steel Co., supra test of the factors to be balanced in determining whether an employee’s concerted protected activity loses the protection of the Act due to opprobrious conduct.

I find the second factor, the subject matter of the discussion also weighs in favor of protection of Banos’ conduct. Banos was engaged in defending his position that he had properly performed his job when he shut down the pressline to make a repair. The “coaching” engaged in by Amstutz was in reliance on her conclusion that Banos’ taking the line down to repair it was an error on his part or at least poor work performance. In any event Banos’ reasonably perceived that he was at risk of receiving discipline for his work performance. Moreover his assertion that he was being unfairly singled out by Amstutz came on the heels of his participation in the hand- billing for a Union meeting and his solicitation of other unit employees to come to the Union meeting. This also followed meetings held by the Company where Company representatives had urged the employees to eliminate the third party (“the Union”) so that it could deal one-on-one with the employees. This is particularly noteworthy in a review of the Publisher’s letter to the employees and in view of Human Resource Manager Julie Nebeker’s discussion at meetings where she urged the Union to accept the Company’s final offer, negotiate further or get out of the way.

The third factor, the nature of the conduct, weighs in favor of the protection of the Act. I do not find that Banos’ conduct was so egregious as to lose the protection of the Act. Amstutz acknowledged that the workplace is noisy, there have been threats and even fights among employees and that profanity is used with some regularity among the employees. Stone also testified that he has heard profanity used by supervisors. I credit this testimony. Under these circumstances, I find that Amstutz had heard profanity before as she indicated this in her testimony. The testimony of Nebeker, Banos, Prichett and Stone also supports the conclusion that profanity is regularly engaged in by the employees on the job. However, in the instant case the only unit employee at this meeting was Stone who was there in his role as a Union steward. Moreover, I find it significant that both Pritchett and Stone denied that they had heard this comment and Nebeker testified this alleged comment was not mentioned by Amstutz or Prichett. This leaves me with the conclusion that the comment did not have an impact on the other participants in the meeting.

I find that the fourth factor, the commission of the Respondent of unfair labor practices, also weighs in favor of the protection of the Act. It is clear as noted in the General Counsel’s brief that the Respondent was actively initiating and fostering the desertification efforts by its discussion of the contract status at the meetings and urging the unit employees that they decertify the Union and by the delivery of cards to seek an election to decertify the Union, particularly to employees it believed were not in favor of union representation. This activity was not mere ministerial assistance. This type of activity is violative of the Act.

Accordingly I find that the four factors both individually and in their entirety favor the protection of Banos’ conduct and I find he did not lose the protection of the Act by his conduct in the “coaching” meeting of October 2, 2003. I find that the issuance of the written warning on October 10, 2003, by its manager Jennifer Amstutz and signed off on by Garren violated Section 8(a)(1) and (3) of the Act.

Thelen is a big believer that cutting staff and coverage will help make a better quality paper.

"From a news point of view this has never been about reducing headcount, it's been about doing more," Thelen said. "We have realized efficiencies in support areas such as facilities, such as HR, such as business office, and we're in the process of looking for additional efficiencies there. The idea is to find ways to support the content-generating areas -- news, advertising and marketing. This is not a venture in headcount reduction. It's about reallocating resources to improve our competitive situation in the market."

I fail to see how a paper generates content when it cuts sections and staff. The problem with multimedia is Media General is forcing a smaller staff to work the print, website, radio and television newscast. The news quality is worse from people overworked.

"I don't know of any successful convergence operation that does well by reducing staff," said Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute. That might be why the Poynter owned-St. Petersburg Times is killing the Trib in circulation.

Gil, I'm going to miss you. No one can run a newspaper into the ground quite like you.


At March 31, 2006 12:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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