NLRB rules against San Francisco Chronicle managers on union access

By Caroline Grannan, Guild unit chair, San Francisco Chronicle

Feb. 28, 2019 – Managers at the San Francisco Chronicle illegally restricted union representatives from visiting the workplace and talking with members of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, the National Labor Relations Board has ruled.

The NLRB ordered the Chronicle, a Hearst newspaper, not only to post an announcement about the union victory but also to read an announcement aloud. As of late February, the company hasn’t done as it was told, unit members said.

Since the administrative law judge entered the order in December, the Chronicle and the company have agreed on an access policy that’s now part of the bargaining agreement. The union represents 160 Chronicle employees.

In the Dec. 13 ruling, Administrative Law Judge Gerald M. Etchingham found the company’s actions restricting union representatives’ access were an unfair labor practice that amounted to retaliation against the union representatives.

Etchingham’s ruling said that during her testimony, Hearst Human Relations Vice President Renee Peterson admitted that the management’s limited access policy of December 2017 imposed false and harsh access restrictions on only the union “contrary to its longstanding policy of continuous free access regarding other visitors.”

The case grew out of a Dec. 6, 2017, incident in which a representative of the Chronicle human relations department ordered Guild staff Carl Hall, executive officer, and Kat Anderson, administrative officer and business agent, to leave.

The two were speaking with Guild members in the Chronicle newsroom after signing in with a security guard and receiving visitor badges.

On Dec. 21, 2017, the Guild received a letter from Chronicle attorney Mark Batten saying that Guild staff was allowed to speak to Chronicle employees only “while they are on break or in non-work settings. … “

The letter said the policy “requires all visitors to sign in with security and be escorted by a member of Human Resources or by an employee to a designated non-work area. Non-work areas include: cafeterias, break rooms, common areas, and lobbies.” The Chronicle doesn’t have a cafeteria or any spaces designated break rooms.

“These same restrictions apply to all visitors,” Batten’s letter said, claiming that the policy had existed since 2014. Actually, no such policy had ever been announced, applied or enforced.

The Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge, leading to the eventual decision in favor of the union.

In the ruling, Etchingham said Peterson’s own testimony at the trial refuted the statement in the Dec. 21, 2017, letter, which Peterson herself had distributed to Guild representatives.

Etchingham ordered the company to rescind the access ban (which it has done) and post a notice announcing the ruling, physically and electronically, for 60 days.