Oakland boycott of newspaper over union actions upheld
CALIFORNIA–The city of Oakland can legally announce, encourage and participate in a boycott of The Oakland Tribune, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled in mid-September.
In overturning a San Francisco district court decision to enjoin Oakland’s actions, the three-judge panel held that the city’s actions were a form of free, political speech, and not a way to regulate the newspaper.
The appellate court disagreed with the newspaper company’s claim that the boycott violated the newspaper’s First Amendment rights. “The First Amendment protects newspapers from retaliation by government agencies on account of articles or views that the newspapers have published (or intend to publish), not against retaliation because of the internal policies or business conduct of their owners,” the court stated.
The case stemmed from a labor dispute that began in the fall of 1992, when Alameda Newspaper, Inc. bought The Oakland Tribune. The company ended the newspaper’s relations with nine unions and fired more than 400 of 600 employees.
In April 1993, the Newspaper Guild and other unions led a boycott of The Oakland Tribune, and asked the city of Oakland to endorse the event and stop doing business with the newspaper. The city signed a resolution endorsing the boycott, withdrawing all advertising and cancelling 13 subscriptions.
The appellate panel rejected the newspaper company’s claim that the boycott was a regulatory measure. The appellate court said the city’s written and oral resolutions were not regulatory because they had no “binding force” on anyone and were “clearly expressive in nature.” The court also stated the city’s advertising and subscriptions withdrawal did not have enough economic impact on the newspaper to be considered a regulatory action. (Alameda Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Oakland; Media Counsel: Paul Duvall, San Diego)