Under Legal Threats, The Guardian Killed My Investigation into SEIU Sexual Misconduct Cover-Ups

PITTSBURGH, PA. – Last week, SEIU agreed to a major settlement to resolve sexual misconduct claims against its Vice President, Dave Reagan. 

As part of the legal proceeding against SEIU, Payday identified two witnesses, Njoki Woods and Daria Aladio, who provided crucial evidence against how Regan and others covered up sexual misconduct and threatened retaliation against whistleblowers. 

The investigation by Payday Report revealed that top officers of the 1.9 million-member SEIU, including President Mary Kay Henry, have not only failed to take action against sexual predators in its union but have actually promoted some men after they were accused of sexual misconduct.

However, the story nearly didn’t happen because of lawsuit threats directed against me and at the Guardian, where this investigation was initially commissioned.

The story was written, edited, and ready to go this spring when the Guardian’s legal team killed the story under a series of legal threats from SEIU. 

Martin Manteca, the Organizing Director of the Southern California Public Workers Union, had a lawyer send a letter threatening to sue me if I printed allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Manteca was threatening to sue us in California, which would have been incredibly expensive given the travel involved. 

In addition, the Guardian expressed legal concerns about printing allegations from Njoki Woods, who is being sued by SEIU Vice President Dave Regan for defamation as a result of an interview that she gave with Payday Report. They expressed these concerns that the allegations made by Woods were accurate despite multiple witnesses’ swearing-in affidavits. 

My editor Dominic Rushe advocated for them to print the story. Still, the Guardian folded in the most cowardly newsroom decision I have ever seen in my 11 years as a labor reporter. 

SEIU’s legal threats worked as the Guardian ultimately killed what could have been a high profile story. We had an opportunity to take on the bad guys, and Guardian folded like a deck of cheap cards. 

Worse, the fight over the SEIU sexual misconduct investigation severely strained what had been a very fruitful relationship with the Guardian. In 2018, I wrote 43 stories for the Guardian and led the publication’s coverage of the teachers’ strike. 

However, since the fight over the publication, dozens of pitches that I have sent to Guardian have been rejected, including during the historic strike at GM. After two years and 75 articles, the Guardian suddenly stopped working with me after the fight over the publication for reasons that have never been explained to me. 

Fortunately, I was able to negotiate to retain the right to publish an investigation on my own at Payday Report. I wasn’t going to let legal threats scare me from telling the truth about sexual assault in the ranks of the labor movement. 

(You can read the full investigation here into SEIU’s cover-up of sexual assault here)

In the movie “Spotlight” about the cover-up of sexual assault in the Catholic Church, one of the characters says, “If it takes a village to raise a kid, it takes a village to abuse one.” The Guardian was a part of that village that enabled men in SEIU to get away with sexual assault. 

I am calling on Guardian Editor-in-Chief Kath Viner in London to provide an explanation for why the Guardian bent under legal threat to sexual predators. As the first female Editor-in-Chief of the Guardian, Kath Viner owes an explanation to the women of the labor movement about why the Guardian turned their backs on them. 

Regardless, Payday will no be deterred in its continuing investigation into a sexual assault at SEIU. No women in the labor movement should be sexually assaulted, and Payday is not afraid of taking on those who cross that line. 

Donate to Payday to Help Us Continue to Take on Sexual Assault in the Labor Movement

About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of the late William Greider, Mike Elk is a Sidney award winning labor reporter and the founder of Payday Report. He worked extensively as a correspondent for The Guardian. In 2016, he used his $70,000 NLRB settlement from being fired in the union drive at Politico to start the crowd-funded Payday Report while living in Chattanooga. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he now lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Melk@PaydayReport.com

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