Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Paper Bags Are Safe: Travis Armstrong Is in Town

Travis Armstrong strikes (well, that's the wrong word given how he feels about unions) again in today's paper that used to be the News-Press with an editorial coyly titled "More union strife ahead?" as if he even begins to mean that as a question. (No link, as the N-P doesn't feel it's part of the internets and makes you pay for everything.) Armstrong calls Santa Barbara a union town "more than what's good for it," which might just mean he conflates WendyMcCaw with Santa Barbara--I guess she contains multitudes, they just better not walk on her beach.

Actually, conflation seems to be a problem for Armstrong in many ways, for the editorial--all 451 words and 14 paragraphs of it--jumps about more than a Charlie Kaufman screenplay, but it lacks the wit. For instance, his major goal seems to be to tar every union with the dreaded Teamster brush, and therefore immediately goes from discussing the looming grocery workers' strike to this:

Teamsters organizers from Los Angeles want to represent certain News-Press newsroom employees and have brought disruptive tactics to our community. No doubt, the Teamsters next will set their sights on other employers in Santa Barbara.

The union historically is known for its past ties to organized crime.

Any guesses as to what union represents grocery workers? No, not the Teamsters but the United Food and Commercial Workers. Somebody better tell Travis not all unions are the same, even if they look the same to him. If you manage to snag the Armstrong ear, it might also be good to point out that:
  1. The News-Press employees brought the Teamsters here as their only recourse to keep the newsroom somewhat sane;
  2. There was this little thing called an election (33-6) that says the Teamsters do represent the newsroom employees (I guess Travis figures if the N-P doesn't report on the election and the NLRB hearing they didn't happen);
  3. The Teamsters don't just get every possible employee in the world to unionize--different jobs actually have different representation;
  4. "Set their sights" makes them seem sort of violent, doesn't it?
Of course, nothing thrills Armstrong more than to say the Teamsters have an ugly history (note his redundancy of historical past ties, too--he can't even write well, let alone argue). I haven't seen him spend much editorial inch discussing the lamentable and often illegal history of newspaper owners and management, though. And I'm not just talking about management's glory days back in the 1910s, I'm talking about the 1990s. Here's a bit of the Detroit story from noted labor journalist David Bacon:

In 1995, management of both Detroit newspapers put demands on the table which they knew would be unacceptable to unions--replacing cost-of-living raises with merit increases, and eliminating union jobs while creating non-union positions doing the same work. The existence of a plan to force a strike was amply demonstrated by meetings between management and the Sterling Heights police department. The Detroit Newspaper Agency, a joint operation of both newspapers to share production and distribution facilities, promised four months before the strike started to compensate the department for overtime costs it would incur in shepherding scabs into the plant.

By the time the strike was a year old, the agency had paid Sterling Heights $2.1 million for police overtime.


Once unions walked out on strike, the Detroit papers were ready to replace the strikers immediately, and had contracted with Alternative Work Force to bring in 580 scabs. AWF is one of a number of companies which specialize in recruiting scabs for strikes.


To guard Detroit's scabs, the newspapers at first hired another company which has made lots of money in the newspaper wars --Huffmaster Security. [note: as far as I can tell Huffmaster has no connection to Agnes Huff, who resurfaced on the Indy Media Blog to say she's still a News-Press' spokesperson...only to then say she can't say anything] For supplying 480 guards and 580 scabs for the first four months of the strike, Huffmaster and AWK were paid $2.3 million. The guard company is suing the papers for $1.6 million more.

Huffmaster was replaced by a larger, even more notorious, security firm, Vance International, whose guards show up dressed in black uniforms and combat boots.


Standard company legal strategy during strikes rests on convincing friendly judges to issue injunctions which virtually eliminate picketing, so that scabs pass freely in and out. While there is basically no punishment for companies if scabs threaten or injure strikers, if a striker threatens a scab in any way, or even insults them, the NLRB has held that such activity is misconduct--grounds for firing. After a strike is over, videotapes become evidence used to selectively ensure that active union members are not rehired.


In Detroit, 20 Vance guards beat striker Vito Sciuto with a stick, breaking his skull. In comments to a reporter afterwards, a Vance employee said the guards wanted "to hurt people."

That's newspaper management, who might not have ties to organized crime, just to companies that bust unionized heads for a living. Seems mighty up-and-up to me.

Of course Travis finally just wanders off into the land of baseless assertion when he gets to:

We have many concerns about the spread of unionization in Santa Barbara, particularly when one considers what happens at many businesses once the organizers move in or when a union is certified. First there's strife. Next prices often go up and quality goes down.

Sure, there's strife. The owners might not get everything they want. Just imagine the strife back in the early 20th century when companies had to let workers work only 5 days a week for 40 hours. Poor owners. And where's the proof that prices go up and quality goes down? Can you give even one example?

He thinks he does by claiming that our most unionized sector is government...oh, he's wrong already. The area's biggest employer is UCSB and much of the university workforce is unionized. But is UCSB an example of "inefficiencies, bloat and lack of customer care"? Maybe in administration, but those aren't the union jobs.

Once again, we have to re-think our terminology, for what too often is billed a "labor problem" is really a "management problem."

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Anonymous Tessitura said...

They should just move his editorials to the funny pages where they belong...that guy is a serious JOKE!

WV: try #1)mydsrxtq...a very good start but I lose it in the end.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Al Bacara said...

Welcome to, not the alter-native press, but the alter-native reality of Wendy's world and all those who reside there. The Holy trinity of Wendy, Barry and Travis, only serve up the 'REAL' facts, based upon and according to their own truth, actual facts and common sense aren't really important here. If it fits their print, then it must be the [real] truth, because it's IN the NP. See what happens when a reality is spun for the 'common' good? For Wendy's next news flash, Travis will connect the mayor with yet unfound WMD [perhaps in Goleta?], being guarded by a group of Teamsters. If you doubt that, Barry has the tag team of cease and desist ready in case you'll consider any of that free speech stuff, they'll make sure it's not FREE .

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the N-P is NOT part of the internet, one can tell mgmt doesn't even get it....wikinomics is the wave of the future

12:26 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Thanks for the lesson in labor history. Good stuff.

2:31 PM  
Blogger George said...

Alas it's not even 20 years ago--it's not history, it's current events.

2:35 PM  
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