NewsGuild Staff Shakeup as Questions Linger about Violent Intimidation, Racism & Sexual Misconduct

NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss in his LA Times staff photo (LA Times)

On Thursday, Payday Report confirmed that NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss dismissed the long-time NewsGuild staff director, Tim Schick, from his role as the administrative director of the NewsGuild. 

In a truly democratic union this would be big news, but 33-year-old Schleuss, a controversial newly elected president, has chosen to keep NewsGuild members in the dark. 

Schleuss’s refusal to speak publicly is part of a troubling pattern, one where he refuses to speak about everything from the cover-up of sexual misconduct within his union to the refusal of his union to join their rival union in calling for the expulsion of police unions from the AFL-CIO. 

Growing up in a United Electrical Workers (UE) family, I was always taught that “members should run their unions,” but when union leaders keep information from their membership, it’s impossible for union members to democratically control their unions. 

It’s unclear why Schleuss dismissed Schick as the Administrative Director of the NewsGuild. Some had criticized print veteran Schick for being out-of-touch with digital media workers while others praised his administrative rule in running a complex media union. Others speculated that Schick may have been removed as part of a power move by Schleuss as he continues to consolidate control over the union. 

When asked to discuss his dismissal, Schick told Payday Report last Wednesday via email: “I am not currently in a position to comment.” Schleuss also refused to comment on the dismissal, continuing his troubling pattern of attempting to hide controversies from the membership of the NewsGuild.

Schleuss even kept silent after NewsGuild officer, Zach Tanner, elbowed and punched me in my ribs on tape while I tried to ask him about a sexual misconduct cover-up in our union at a NewsGuild rally at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette earlier this year on September 25. 

While Schleuss knew that he was being recorded on camera, he watched as Tanner repeatedly punched and hit me. He did nothing to stop the attack. Later, Tanner and a group of three other men including one wearing a CWA union shirt surrounded me, shoved me into one another, and threatened to beat me up on tape if I attempted to approach Schleuss again to ask him more questions about sexual misconduct. 

Schleuss simply watched the assault and physical threats as I attempted to do my job as a reporter. 

Then, nearly a month after the rally, I received a violent, threatening email on October 16. Deeply concerned by the emails given the assault by Tanner the month earlier, I hired a private investigator to dig into who had sent the threatening email. 

The investigator discovered that the email had been sent by the email address “[email protected].” Creating a separate website domain, “mikeelk.com,” and creating an email account associated with the website was a sophisticated attempt at avoiding tracing and something that a skilled web designer like Tanner would have the technical expertise to do. 

Our investigation revealed that the domain was registered on July 30. The date was significant as it was less than 24 hours after I had publicly called out Tanner on Twitter and demonstrated — with screenshots — how he had lied to the press and made contradictory statements about the actions of the Michael Fuoco-led leadership of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild.

During this period, when the website “mikeelk.com” was created, Tanner, as well as other reporters, were well aware that I had been investigating the sexual misconduct of Fuoco as I had cold-called numerous reporters and had informed Tanner in a Twitter direct message on July 30 that I was investigating Fuoco. 

The fact that a website was created using my name to harass me on the same day that I informed Tanner I was investigating Fuoco, his NewsGuild mentor, hardly seems like a coincidence. 

The website associated with “mikeelk.com,” (which merely contains a picture of a moose) was created two and a half months before I received the first email. Sent from [email protected] at 7:41 p.m. on the eve of Friday, October 16, it was titled “you little bitch ass autistic motherfucker.” 

The language used in the threat was eerily similar to the language that Tanner previously used to attack my reporting online, which focused on the fact that my credibility was questionable because I crowdfunded money on Twitter for our labor reporting. Other reporters had informed me that Tanner had previously spread rumors about my mental health to discredit my critical coverage of the Pittsburgh NewsGuild. 

The threatening email sent to me also made unsettling references to my family, with statements like: “You’re a fucking bitch piece of shit who is just coasting on his dad’s legacy as a labor leader,” which was in reference to my father Gene Elk, the United Electrical Workers (UE) director of organization.

The private investigator also discovered that Tanner had previously pled guilty to criminal charges of “drunken misconduct,” stemming from a drunk fight with a taxi driver outside of a bar in Pittsburgh. 

As someone, who had seen Tanner drunk at various hipster bars in Pittsburgh, where I live, I became very nervous.

Given our investigation, Tanner’s past violent history toward me, previous violent criminal history, and his role as an elected officer in the NewsGuild, I asked the union to investigate. 

Violent attacks by union officers against members of the union is a violation of my federal union rights under Section 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act as union members have a right to engage in debates within their unions without fear of violent intimidation

I’ve filed criminal charges of assault and harassment against Tanner and the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office is currently investigating the assault and threats. 

Yet, the NewsGuild refuses to take action or open an investigation into Tanner’s violent assault of me, which was captured on tape and witnessed by a half-dozen reporters at a union rally outside of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

For those of us like me, who fought and sacrificed our jobs to help jumpstart the digital media unionization, it appears that in Schleuss’s attempt to build a union bureaucracy for new digital media unions, he is simply re-creating the top-down structure of corporate media. 

Schleuss is enabling union leaders who have physically assaulted union members, and worse, leaders who have engaged in sexual misconduct. 

This September, Payday Report exposed that Pittsburgh NewsGuild President Michael Fuoco had been accused of serial sexual misconduct. Evidence obtained by Payday Report showed that Schleuss failed to take action on widely known allegations of sexual misconduct for nearly a year until he was called out publicly on it by Payday Report. 

Emails showed that National NewsGuild-CWA President Schleuss knew of sexual misconduct allegations against Fuoco since December of 2019 and later, emails showed he had obtained actionable written evidence describing sexual assault in August of 2020. But Schleuss resisted opening a formal investigation into Fuoco and meanwhile continued to promote Fuoco publicly on Twitter. 

That September Schleuss also approved the usage of strike funds under Fuoco’s leadership as reporters at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette prepared to engage in one of the most high-profile newspaper strikes in a generation. 

At one point, Schleuss even accused me in an email of making up the sexual misconduct claims to score political points 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 August 5 email, rejecting my call for an investigation of Fuoco’s widely known sexual misconduct allegation. 

According to NewsGuild insiders, Schleuss was allegedly looking for legal excuses to not get a national union involved in a local union’s affairs

While Schleuss has protected and continued promoting violent men like Tanner and Fuoco, he has also worked to protect police unions within the Communication Workers of America union. 

Last June, the executive board of NewsGuild rival union, the Writer’s Guild of America-East, unanimously passed a resolution calling on the AFL-CIO to disaffiliate the International Association of Police Unions. 

Following the lead of the Writers’ Guild of America-East, NewsGuild members at In These Times magazine passed a resolution in June also calling on their union to ban police unions from the AFL-CIO and for the NewsGuild’s parent union, CWA, to kick out 3,000 police union members from its ranks. 

Union members at In These Times argued that not only was it the right move from a racial justice standpoint but that journalists who are victims of police brutality while covering protests had a special interest in calling out police unions. (As a journalist, I, myself, have been beaten twice by police). 

However, Schleuss has resisted efforts to get the NewsGuild on board with expelling 3,000 police officers from NewsGuild parent union, CWA. Passage of a resolution from the NewsGuild division of CWA could jeopardize regular multi-million dollar grants that the NewsGuild receives from its parent union. 

Six months after the Writers Guild and In These Times Union passed a resolution calling out police unions, the NewsGuild has yet to back any anti-police brutality measures. Behind the scenes, Schleuss has worked to stall the resolution from coming to a vote of the national NewsGuild. 

Despite being President of the nation’s largest journalists union, Schleuss declined repeatedly to be interviewed for this story. 

For nearly two months, I have written to Schleuss asking him to use his power as national president of the NewsGuild to remove Tanner as an elected union officer given the assault and investigate the anonymous violent threats received against me that evidence strongly indicates came from Tanner. Not only has Schleuss ignored my emails, but he has continued to retweet and promote Tanner on Twitter as a spokesperson for our union the NewsGuild.

I intend to file National Labor Relations Board charges against the NewsGuild if this matter is not resolved quickly by the NewsGuild.

With the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette now gearing up to strike, I find myself fearful of covering rallies and have relied on calling on friends to make sure I have a back-up in case of another violent attack. 

As a dues-paying member of the NewsGuild, I am outraged that I have to fear for my safety covering my own union.

As someone who was fired, smeared, and blacklisted for my role as a union activist at Politico in the early days of the digital media union movement, it outrages me to see leaders of my union enabling sexual assault and violent intimidation within their own union. 

There should be no place in our union for violent intimidation, sexual misconduct, or racism. It doesn’t appear that Schleuss agrees — his leadership of the NewsGuild is an insult to all of us who sacrificed so much to build the digital media union movement. 

If he is unwilling to accept the type of accountability and criticism, then he should step down as President of the NewsGuild.

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About the Author

Mike Elk
A protege of the late Bill Greider, Mike Elk is an Emmy-nominated 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: [email protected]

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