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Newspaper Wins Lawsuit to Overturn Boycott; Judge Rules City's Endorsement of a Union Boycott against the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune Was in Violation of the National Labor Relations Act

Article excerpt

The OAKLAND (CALIF.) Tribune won a sweeping court victory in its lawsuit to overturn a boycott of the paper by the Oakland City Council.

In a 21-page opinion, U.S. District judge Charles Legge in San Francisco ruled that the city's endorsement of a union boycott against the Tribune - in which it canceled its subscriptions and urged citizens to do likewise - was in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.

Legge's summary judgment termed the City Council's action "an attempt by the city to interfere in the free play of economic forces permitted by the NLRA in collective bargaining disputes."

The Tribune's request for unspecified compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages will be discussed at a status conference on May 27, Legge said.

Paul Duvall, an attorney for King & Ballow, which represented the Tribune in the case, said he also will seek attorneys' fees and court costs from the city.

Alameda Newspapers Inc. which publishes the Tribune, has been in contract negotiations with the Northern California Newspaper Guild for six years and also is in dispute with the Teamsters' Mailers and Drivers locals.

In July 1993, the Alameda County Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, began a boycott of the Tribune, urging subscribers and advertisers to follow.

Two months later, the Oakland City Council adopted a resolution accusing the Tribune of "anti-labor conduct" and endorsing the union boycott. This was followed by a voice resolution canceling all city subscriptions to the Tribune and declaring that it would stop all future advertising in the paper.

The Tribune's suit claimed the resolutions were regulatory in nature and preempted by the NLRA. It also sought immunity under the First and 14th Amendments.

The city argued that in boycotting the paper, it was acting as an "ordinary consumer" in deciding what newspapers to buy or advertise in.

Legge disagreed, stating, "The city is clearly pursuing a policy goal, not a purchaser's goal. Boycotting the Oakland Tribune in no way helps the city. It only helps the unions at the bargaining table. Indeed, the city is hurt by its own action. It must now find new advertising media and sources for news information, which is especially difficult since Oakland has only one paper of general circulation. …