Federal officials have dismissed unfair labor practices that alleged the company that publishes the vast majority of Bay Area newspapers, including this paper, laid off some newsroom employees because of their labor activities.

The National Labor Relations Board in Oakland decided that Bay Area News Group-East Bay did not act illegally when it laid off newsroom workers Sara Steffens, Rebecca Rosen-Lum, and Geoff Lepper, according to a letter issued by NLRB officials.

"Contrary to (the union's) allegations, the evidence was insufficient to establish that the employer harbored animus against these three employees because of their protected activities," Alan Reichard, the NLRB's regional director, stated in a letter written to the union's primary attorney in the case.

One of the employees involved, Steffens, was a leader in an employee organizing effort that resulted in a narrow majority of newsroom workers deciding that the Northern California Media Workers Guild should represent employees in bargaining about working conditions. The June job cuts included the layoffs of 29 out of 226 employees who were working in the newsroom at that time.

"The employer has presented sufficient evidence to establish that it had business-related reasons for selecting Steffens, Rosen-Lum and Lepper for layoff," Reichard wrote in his letter about the decision.

The company involved, Bay Area News Group-East Bay, publishes the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, and numerous other daily newspapers and publications in the East Bay and on the Peninsula. The principal owner of BANG-East Bay is California Newspapers Partnership, a group controlled by Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc.

"Yes, I'm disappointed," said Carl Hall, a union organizer. "We thought the evidence was pretty clear. Most of us found the evidence pretty persuasive. Both union officers and others who looked at the case thought so. The company's actions were at least suspicious. But we will avail ourselves of every appeal."

Hall said the newspaper guild intends to file an appeal with the nationwide headquarters of the NLRB.

"We were very pleased," said Marshall Anstandig, general counsel for California Newspapers Partnership. "Cutting staff is always an unfortunate circumstance. But we were delighted to see that the board agreed that our layoff of the three employees was not unlawful."

The original charges in the matter were filed July 15. The union and the company have held multiple rounds of negotiations in an attempt to fashion a first-time contract to cover East Bay journalists.

Reach George Avalos at 925-977-8477 or gavalos@bayareanewsgroup.com.