CWA-NewsGuild Faces New Legal Charges, Won’t Release Discovery Documents

CWA-NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss is facing legal charges for failing to release legal documents as part of a sexual misconduct and violent intimidation case (LA Times)

PITTSBURGH, PA – This week in a court in Pittsburgh, I filed a “motion to comply” against CWA-NewsGuild, charging that the union failed to comply with its legal obligation to release discovery documents in a high-profile sexual misconduct whistleblower case in Pittsburgh.

If these documents are not provided in 10 days as legally required, we are asking the judge to financially sanction the CWA-NewsGuild in order to compel the release of these documents.

(A copy of the legal “motion to comply” can be found here, and a full copy of our 20-page lawsuit can be found here).

A series of sexual misconduct and violent intimidation scandals have rocked the union. In this case, the refusal of the CWA-NewsGuild, the largest journalist union in the country, to comply with legal orders to release discovery documents raises troubling questions.

The NewsGuild and CWA have repeatedly claimed that they did nothing wrong in multiple cases like mine – so why hide these documents? As our reporting has already shown, revealing the role of union leadership in covering up sexual misconduct and violent intimidation will likely cost some union leaders their jobs; it already has for some more. 

Last week, an incumbent administration was voted out of office for the first time in the Communication Workers of America (CWA) history. Reformer Claude Cummings was elected as the 1st Black president of CWA. 

CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens, the top NewsGuild official in CWA, who had previously been elected to national office twice and was backed by outgoing president Chris Shelton, was expected to be re-elected easily. 

However, after it was revealed by Payday Report and the Emergency Mutual Respect Committee that Steffens covered up violent intimidation and sexual misconduct, Steffens only received 14% in her run for CWA president. The defeat was a massive blow to the incumbent administration of CWA and scandal-plagued NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss, that had backed Steffens. 

Clearly, CWA members are upset about sexual misconduct and violent intimidation; hence, it seems problematic that CWA-NewsGuild refuses to comply with legal orders to provide discovery documents in an ongoing sexual misconduct whistleblower case in Pittsburgh. 

This week, I filed a legal motion in Pittsburgh demanding that the CWA-NewsGuild meet its legal obligation to comply with discovery or face legal sanctions. Legally, the documents were due to be delivered to us in May. However, we got a month extension till June 16th, and since then, the CWA NewsGuild’s lawyer has “ghosted.” 

According to reports first published by Payday Report and later confirmed independently by the New York Times, national CWA-NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss knew about sexual assault allegations against former Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael Fuoco for nearly a year but refused to take action. The New York Times reported that Scheluss had even met with a sexual assault survivor of Fucoo’s but continued to promote Fuoco at rallies and on social media. 

Instead of investigating the claims of sexual assault within CWA, the New York Times reported that Schleuss and CWA leaders planned to malign my mental health as a former Brazilian drug war reporter suffering from PTSD to discredit Payday’s reporting

Pittsburgh CWA-NewsGuild President Zack Tanner is currently facing a whistleblower lawsuit for physically assaulting me, which was caught on tape, and sending me graphic emails depicting how he wanted me raped.

CWA is also charged with harassing my father and his co-workers at the United Electric Workers (UE). (Journalists are constantly attacked and are prepared for these ugly attacks, but to attack a journalist’s family is horrific).  

(Read a copy of the lawsuit here)

Despite public reassurances that the lawsuit would be quickly dismissed as “frivolous,” CWA has lost on every attempt to dismiss the various charges of the complaint after nearly a year of battling it in court. The suit is currently in the discovery stage and will hopefully go to trial in the next year. 

However, the CWA-NewsGuild is again wasting member money by refusing to comply with legal requirements to provide documents requested as part of discovery. 

In May, the CWA-NewsGuild was legally obligated to provide the documents requested as part of discovery. As a courtesy, my counsel, Louis Kroeck, granted the union a month extension on their legal obligation. 

Ryan Allen Hancock of Williams, Witting, & Davidson informed my counsel Louis Kroeck that all documents would be provided by June 16th. When my lawyer inquired on two occasions where the documents were, their counsel “ghosted.” 

Now, I have filed legal charges against CWA-NewsGuild here in Pittsburgh. If CWA-NewsGuild fails to release these documents, we will ask the court to file sanctions against the union. 

CWA-NewsGuild should stop wasting the union’s money and release these documents. Already, I have been forced by the NewsGuild to release invasive documents regarding my psychiatric history. 

Payday has waged a lonely, three and half year battle for union democracy within CWA. We are winning that fight, and we will keep winning that fight because the truth stands on our side.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing nearly 2,000 stories from 46 states, Elk traveled with Lula from Sáo Bernando do Campos all the way to the Oval Office in the White House. Credited by the Washington Post for being the first reporter to track the strike wave systematically, Elk started Payday Report using his NLRB settlement from being illegally fired for union organizing in 2015. He lives in his hometown of Pittsburgh and works frequently in Rio de Janeiro, where he attended college at PUC-Rio. He speaks both Portuguese and Pittsburghese fluently. His email is [email protected]