Elk Gives Testimony on SEIU’S Legal Threats Against Sexual Misconduct Whistleblowers

SEIU Preisdent Mary Kay Henry (KPFA)

At a time when SEIU’s healthcare workers are facing COVID every day, their union is spending thousands of dollars suing an SEIU sexual misconduct whistleblower Njoki Woods for defamation. 

Last week, I submitted an affidavit, under the penalty of perjury, into the case SEIU International Et al. vs Njoke Woods for a hearing in California to dismiss baseless defamation charges made against her for an interview she made to Payday Report about sexual misconduct in her union.

Woods is currently facing defamation charges for giving an interview with Payday Report that was backed up by additional interviews and court documents. The lawsuit was appears to be strictly retaliatory and the first rule of journalism is to defend your source. So I was glad to offer testimony on behalf of Njoke Woods, a medical assistant who came out of the rank-and-file of SEIU to speak out on the culture of sexual misconduct plaguing her union. 

Worse, it was designed to scare papers like the Guardian away from publishing anything. At a time of layoffs, legal costs scare many editors. 

Ultimately, the threats worked as court documents, emails, and testimony entered into the court record show. (Read the court documents here)

Despite this, the readers of the Payday Report gave us a platform where we could take on SEIU.  

As a result, 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 of 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 and made over $25,000 in 2018 for the Guardian and led the publication’s coverage of the teachers’ strike. 

Afterward, they killed the story under legal threat, no pitches of my were accepted even during the GM strike for reasons never fully explained to me. 

The intent of these lawsuits is to kill future stories and SEIU permanently damaged my ability to work with the Guardian. 

However, Payday will not be silenced. 

Sexual assault in the labor movement is something that many don’t want to be covered but it must be covered if you truly believe in solidarity. 

Donate to Help Us Continue to Expose Sexual Misconduct in the Labor Movement

About the Author

Mike Elk
Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated labor reporter and alumni of the Guardian. In addition to filing over 1,800 stories from 46 states, Elk was the only American reporter in the room with Lula on the morning of the election & traveled with him to the Oval Office. 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]

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