On the Ropes by Mr. Fish.
On March 16, those participating in Truthdig’s work stoppage wrote directly to publisher Zuade Kaufman and Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer. We invited them to participate in a conference call on March 17 to begin negotiations to restore Robert Scheer as Editor-in-Chief and to address unfair labor practices, opening a potential path that would allow us to return to work. Mr. Scheer, as co-owner of Truthdig, agreed to speak with us. We received no reply from Ms. Kaufman. She has also not attempted to communicate with the copy desk staff, who joined in the work stoppage.
This morning, March 17, Truthdig posted a letter by Ms. Kaufman titled “Open Letter from Truthdig’s Publisher & CEO: Breaking My Silence.” The only group that has been silenced, however, is Truthdig’s staff. Our post on March 11 explaining the reason for our work stoppage was quickly removed from the website. We have been locked out of our Truthdig email accounts and the publication’s CMS. Comments from readers that have been supportive of our strike have been deleted from the site. The publisher, despite her claims that she cares about the rights of her workers, refuses to speak with us.
Ms. Kaufman’s letter is replete with falsehoods. Most insidious is her explanation of the “underlying issue” of our work stoppage and the portrayal of her partnership with Mr. Scheer. While we believe that Mr. Scheer has been treated unfairly by Ms. Kaufman, who seeks total editorial control of the site, and that his ouster would harm the publication, perhaps irreparably, we also made clear in our March 11 statement that this issue goes beyond the efforts by Ms. Kaufman to remove Mr. Scheer. Truthdig’s labor conditions have repeatedly failed to align with its progressive values. These include contracts that compel workers to sign away their basic labor protections, and employee handbook guidelines that are tantamount to gag orders. As CounterPunch recently reported, Truthdig contracts included a waiver of “the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1985, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the California Age Discrimination Act, the California Constitution, the California Labor Code, the California Wage Orders, the Private Attorneys General Act, the California Business and Professions Code, the Laws established by the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the California Family Rights Act,” among other rights, as a requirement for employment at Truthdig. It is highly unlikely that Ms. Kaufman did not know the contents of Truthdig’s contracts, which require all employees to report directly to Ms. Kaufman and which Mr. Scheer, who is supposed to be in charge of editorial content, said he was not permitted to see. The benefits Ms. Kaufman outlines in her open letter regarding vacation days and health care subsidies are available to nearly none of the editors on staff. There has never been a parental leave policy, and over the many years we have worked there collectively, performance reviews have been few and far between, to say nothing of raises.
Claims that we did not bring our concerns about unfair labor practices to management in private are untrue. For example:
+ Two women on the editorial team raised concerns directly to Ms. Kaufman about her policy of forcing copy editors to remain on call for shifts of several hours while only paying them for the amount of time they were actively engaged in editing stories.
+ One female staffer took two additional labor complaints–including the issue of multiple staffers signing away labor and civil rights when they signed up to work for Truthdig–directly to Kaufman’s legal counsel, in front of a witness, in early February.
+ Yet another female staffer resigned over a separate labor complaint a year ago.
Over the past week we have received public and private support from a number of former Truthdig employees who have related their own experiences with unfair labor conditions, expressed solidarity with our collective action, and uniformly lauded Scheer’s editorial leadership.
All of us are eager to return to work. America, and much of the world, is in the grip of a deadly pandemic. We have an obligation as editors and contributors to examine and explain the health, climate, political and economic crises that confront us. But we also have the right, and given past labor practices at Truthdig the responsibility, to form a union. This collective action entails a financial and professional sacrifice that none of us take lightly. We would not have carried it out unless there was no other alternative. That a self-styled progressive publisher would resort to union-busting and disseminating falsehoods about her staff and co-owner is unacceptable.
Natasha Hakimi Zapata