Ahead of Strike, Pittsburgh NewsGuild Prez Accused of Sexual Misconduct

Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael A. Fuoco stands accused of sexual misconduct (CWA)

PITTSBURGH, PA – On Friday, Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh President Michael Fuoco manned an informational picket line outside the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette offices. Reporters were preparing for the industry’s most high-profile newspaper strike in more than a decade. 

But watching Fuoco address TV cameras in front of the picket line made me wince. For the past two years, Payday Report has been investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against Fuoco. 

Not only has the Post-Gazette failed to take action on credible, written accusations against Fuoco, but the newly elected national NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss, a 32-year-old former reporter at the LA Times, resisted my calls to use his power as the international union president to remove Fuoco as the president of a local affiliate of the NewsGuild union for nearly 9 months. 

Fuoco, president of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild since 2010, has been accused of using union happy hours to prey upon, make unwanted sexual advances, and grope women who were sometimes 30 to 40 years younger than him. 

A 69-year-old veteran enterprise and high-profile crime reporter at the Post-Gazette for 36 years, he has also been accused of pursuing sexual relations with subordinates and interns in their early 20s at the Post-Gazette.

“It’s an open secret among journalists in Pittsburgh that Fuoco is a predator and to avoid him at parties,” one woman told Payday, who wished to remain anonymous. 

Some women, who worked at the Post-Gazette, say that Fuoco also used the union to protect at least one other member, reporter Dan Majors, who was helping to oversee the summer internship program. In his mid-50s at the time, Majors had been accused of making unwanted sexual advances toward an intern in her early 20s in 2014, and multiple women pushed for Majors to be fired. 

Majors disputed the accusation and Fuoco successfully defended Majors, who only faced a brief suspension, and Majors still works at the Post-Gazette. 

Now, many women, who’ve worked at the Post-Gazette, worry that having Fuoco as the union’s visible face could hurt organizing efforts in the lead up to the strike. 

“He needs to be held to account for his behavior, and it’s sickening to me how he’s putting himself out there as some kind of labor champion,” said one former Post-Gazette reporter, who chose to remain anonymous. “Maybe the reason the [Post-Gazette] newsroom hasn’t had a raise in 13 years is because its union has a shitty leader.” 

Even though Fuoco’s sexual misconduct has spanned at least a decade, Payday Report has learned that multiple complaints about Fuoco’s sexual misconduct had been filed with Post-Gazette management within that time. Even now, management has yet to take action against Fuoco, who also hosts one of the few podcasts produced by the Post-Gazette. 

Fuoco did not respond to requests for comment for this story despite repeated attempts to reach him. 

Like the Post-Gazette, NewsGuild President Schleuss also failed to take action to investigate Fuoco after repeated notices were sent to him for more than 9 months.

As a dues-paying member, who has been active in the NewsGuild for more than a decade, I first wrote confidentially to Schleuss and labor reporter Fátima Hussein, the chair of the Bloomberg Law union (who has worked closely with Schleuss), on December 19, 2019, about reports and complaints of sexual misconduct against Fuoco that I had learned as a labor reporter living in Pittsburgh. 

Out of concern for the survivors, my union, and the labor movement in my hometown, I warned Schleuss about the liability that Fuoco posed as a union leader in a tough fight in an email entitled, “PGH Guild Prez had HR complaints made against him over sexual misconduct.”

“These aren’t isolated incidents – reporters all over town know that Fuoco has a reputation for this sort of thing,” I wrote. “And some have told me that they were turned off from getting involved because it was seen as an old boys club.” 

Two years earlier, in 2017, the union contract at the Post-Gazette had expired. Under labor law, a union can strike at any time once the contract has expired. But for years, Fuoco resisted attempts to bring the union out on strike, leading some to speculate that Fuoco was hesitant to take on management because of what was in his HR file. 

“Obviously having your shop chair investigated for sexual misconduct on multiple occasions by management gives management a lot of leverage to blackmail a shop steward into not pushing too hard on grievances. Let alone, I can’t imagine the union being strong on sexual harassment,” I warned the NewsGuild leaders in the email last December. 

I informed Schleuss that I wanted him to open an immediate investigation of the President of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild: Michael A. Fuoco. 

“I request though that the Guild open its own investigation into this. It’s important that the Guild not lose members because of this [type] of sexual misconduct.” 

Schleuss never responded to my email. 

While in Washington, D.C., the following month, I requested a meeting with Schleuss in Union Station on Jan. 11 to discuss other matters. In the meeting, I reiterated my request that he open an immediate investigation into Michael Fuoco and hire an expert to do the investigation. I gave Schleuss a list of names of people, who could provide more information.

Schleuss promised to look into the matter. However, Schleuss never contacted any of the people that I suggested. Nor did Schleuss instruct the General Counsel of the NewsGuild to open an immediate investigation. 

Not only did Schleuss fail to investigate Fuoco after receiving an initial complaint, but Schleuss continued to promote Fuoco’s statements on Twitter as recently as Sept. 7, long after Schleuss had been made aware of credible written allegations against him and warned against promoting Fuoco as a spokesperson for the union on Twitter. 

Then, on Sept. 14, nearly two years after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s contract had expired, the executive council of the NewsGuild, which included Schleuss, voted to approve of a strike at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

The NewsGuild-CWA union could have withheld strike approval of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild, pending a change in the union’s leadership. Still, despite having ample, clear written evidence of serious sexual misconduct allegations against President Fuoco, they failed to do so.

For months, Schleuss has resisted calls for investigation and even blocked me from sending emails to his personal email as he ignored over a dozen calls and texts from me over nine months. 

Because many witnesses were hesitant to come forward, I implored Schleuss repeatedly to hire an expert to investigate the matter and told him the names of reporters that were more connected in the local Pittsburgh media scene and who knew far more details than me, that could help facilitate getting survivors to come forward. 

32-year old NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss in his LA Times staff photo (LA Times)

Despite my credentials as a veteran labor reporter, who had covered many sexual assault covers up in the labor movement and even testified in court about how unions retaliate against whistleblowers, Schleuss, in emails, accused me of bringing up the sexual misconduct allegations to get attention as a left-wing dissident within the union. 

“You have a pattern of demanding an audience and then turning aggressive when you don’t get what you want,” wrote Schleuss in an Aug. 5 email. 

Previously, I had complained to Schleuss about the racist treatment and underappreciation by white journalists of a Black NewsGuild activist. I also publicly criticized Schleuss’s call to use our union dues for hiring a Republican lobbyist to lobby for a bailout of mismanaged corporate newspapers. 

Schleuss expressed to me that he had been angered, in particular, by my public denouncement of Pittsburgh NewsGuild leaders for not calling a strike when two Black reporters were taken off of Black Lives Matter coverage in early June. Philadelphia Inquirer reporters had gone on a wildcat strike in early June over anger about racist editorial decisions, and I argued on Twitter that Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters should follow their lead. 

“Pushing them to strike over Twitter isn’t helpful to anyone except [Post-Gazette owners] the Blocks,” Schleuss wrote me in a June 8, 2020 email.

Schleuss repeatedly avoided me and refused to speak to me on why he hadn’t opened an investigation into Fuoco. However, Schleuss did choose to investigate me. 

At one point, in early April when layoffs were ravaging the news industry, Schleuss found the time to call the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild, where I maintain an at-large freelance membership to support the local, which spent heavily to successfully defend me after being illegally fired for union organizing at Politico in 2015, to check on whether I was up-to-date on my dues. (Under federal labor law, dues-paying members such as myself, have legal standing to bring complaints against union leaders for mismanagement). 

For months, he refused to speak to me and did not respond to my emails about why the union had never started an investigation into Fuoco. Finally, on Aug. 5, 2020, after days of repeated phone calls, emails, and texts as the union was preparing to take a strike vote, Schleuss was irate in an email with the leadership of my old union local, the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild, included in the email. 

“This is the last time I’m going to respond to you on this matter,” Schleuss wrote to me in an Aug. 5 email responding to my email asking him to ask a General Counsel to investigate the case, or I would expose how he had refused to open an investigation for months. 

“You chose to demean other members, attack them on Twitter, demand they take illegal and potentially damaging actions all while harassing them and me,” wrote Schleuss of my call for Post-Gazette workers to strike. “It’s a cavalier approach to what you claim is a legitimate and sensitive situation.” 

Under terms of confidentiality, I forwarded Schleuss messages that I had obtained that depicted sexual assault by Fuoco on Aug. 5, 2019. The union leadership then instructed me to no longer be involved as Schleuss wanted to personally direct the investigation. 

“It would, in fact, be preferable if you handed it off to Jon and me. Your continued involvement going forward needlessly complicates matters,” NewsGuild Executive Board member Steven Cook told me in a Twitter direct message on August 5th. 

However, I grew concerned when I saw that no action was taken against Fuoco and that Schleuss continued to promote Fuoco. Since then, Schleuss has refused to answer repeated questions about what was occurring within the union and what they plan to do to investigate him.

Unlike other sexual harassment investigations in which I have participated, I was never contacted by any lawyer representing the Guild to find out what I knew. Indeed, I offered to provide the Guild with Pittsburgh reporters’ names who could likely assist the investigation, and the Guild has yet to even interview me about leads that I have continued to provide them.

I repeatedly urged Schleuss to simply pick up the phone and ask Fuoco if the sexual misconduct allegations were true about him. Schleuss never responded to my requests for him to interrogate Fuoco about accusations against him of sexual misconduct personally.  

Schleuss did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. Neither did the national NewsGuild office nor their local affiliate, the Pittsburgh NewsGuild. Their refusal to speak openly about the matter could influence how comfortable more women feel about coming forward about sexual misconduct in the labor movement. 

The women who have made the complaints against Fuoco have declined to go on record. Many have said that they fear going on the record because it would hurt the union and potentially be used by the Post-Gazette owners against the union. 

Lawyer Kyra Subbotin, who has spent years suing SEIU for covering up sexual misconduct, said this is not unusual.

A more than year-long investigation by Payday Report revealed that top officers of the 1.9 million-member SEIU, including President Mary Kay Henry, had not only failed to take action against sexual predators in its union, but actually promoted some men after being accused of sexual misconduct. Many women, who spoke about sexual misconduct, indeed faced retaliation. 

“Women who work for unions believe in what they do,” said Subbotin. “They believe in the work of unions and hesitate to undermine that work when so many other groups on the right are eager to undermine that work and unions are constantly under fire.”

“So union employees who are victimized are torn: do they speak out for themselves and risk damaging the union’s reputation? Their co-workers will question their loyalty, and they may never get ahead in a movement they support and love.” 

(See Payday’s coverage of this suit “SEIU Prez Knew of Sexual Misconduct and Personally Promoted Staffer Anyhow“)

On August 10, 2020, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette union voted by a 2-to-1 margin to authorize a strike at the Post-Gazette. The right-wing anti-union family, the Blocks, who own the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, has pledged to hire scab replacement reporters and fight any strike by the union. 

“With the strike so close, nobody wants to give any ammunition to the Blocks to attack the union right now,” said one woman, who also chose to remain anonymous. 

However, with management having damning information on Fuoco’s sexual misconduct, it could create a situation where Post-Gazette management could release damning information on Fuoco, in the middle of a strike, to discredit the union. 

Such a release could go viral among the many right-wing media outlets in Pittsburgh. It could hurt not just how the Post Gazette’s union is portrayed, but every union in my hometown of Pittsburgh. 

Any strike funds given to the union must be approved by the national NewsGuild office and its parent union’s executive board, the Communication Workers of America. Already, the NewsGuild Executive Council has approved for the strike funds to be disbursed under Fuoco’s leadership. 

Now, the final approval for the strike still awaits the approval of the 20 member executive board of the Communication Workers of America, including its President Chris Shelton and the high-profile America Attendants (AFA) Union President Sara Nelson. 

It’s unclear why Schleuss has continued to promote Fuoco and has not moved to remove him despite having written evidence of sexual misconduct by Fuoco. 

Last year, Schleuss was elected President of the 25,000 members NewsGuild by a margin of 465 votes. His election was a bitterly fought contest in which he lost the first election by a margin of 271 votes to incumbent 61-year-old NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer. 

Only after Schleuss threatened to call for a federal investigation into the union vote did the NewsGuild agree to hold a re-run election. But instead of cleaning up the office, Schleuss has left in place the same staff and leadership under Lunzer and tried to make peace with those who opposed it. 

Few locals opposed Schleuss more than the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which voted against him by a margin of 50 to 14 during initial voting last May. The Post-Gazette’s sister paper, the Toledo Blade, also owned by the Blocks and coordinated closely with their Pittsburgh NewsGuild, voted against Schleuss by a margin of 81 to 5. 

Before 2017, when Schleuss helped lead a union drive at the LA Times, where he worked, he had not been involved in unions, and many complain that Schleuss lacks the sophistication and knowledge to manage a union of that size. 

“He is in over his head and has no idea what he is doing,” said one veteran NewsGuild activist, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. “He’s a go along get along guy, and that’s not good for a labor leader.”

A strike appears likely any day now at the Post-Gazette. On Friday, the union intends to hold a massive rally of all the unions in Pittsburgh with the Allegheny-Fayette Labor Council. 

Advocates against sexual assault in the labor movement say its time for the labor movement and do the right thing in these cases. 

“It’s up to the unions to walk the talk and protect their own workers, just as they have pledged to protect their members,” said Subbotin. “And there’s no reason why union leaders should be held to a different standard than people in private industry. Unions should set the standard for good behavior. But it’s not happening.”

If you have information about sexual misconduct at the Post-Gazette or in the labor movement, you can contact us anonymously on signal at 412 613 8423 or email melk@paydayreport.com. 

For sexual assault survivors looking for assistance, the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800- 656-4673 is run by the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network, and they offer a list of resources online. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers guidance and resources for those in an unsafe and inequitable workplace and who wish to file a complaint with the PHRC or U.S. EEOC.

Donate to Help Us Continue to Fight Against Sexual Misconduct in the Labor Movement

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is a yinzer labor reporter who covered the drug war in Brasil and spent years covering union organizing in the South 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. The son of United Electrical Workers (UE) Director of Organization Gene Elk, he lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh. Email: Melk@PaydayReport.com

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