By:
September 21, 2021

The NewsGuild has proposed changes to its parent union’s constitution and will provide all members with clear instructions on how to report harassment following the release of a report Tuesday that revealed multiple incidents of harassment at the Pittsburgh Guild over the past 20 years.

The report, titled “Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh 2021 Listening Tour,” includes observations from interviews with 55 current and former Pittsburgh Guild members and stakeholders about the culture at the local. Rebecca Feaster of the consulting group Feaster and Associates conducted the interviews and wrote the report.

The report comes nearly a year to the day after Michael Fuoco resigned from his position as president of the Pittsburgh Guild, the union representing workers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, following allegations of misconduct. The New York Times later reported that Fuoco had sexually harassed multiple women, one of whom described him as “Pittsburgh’s Harvey Weinstein,” and that the NewsGuild had ignored tips regarding Fuoco’s behavior for months.

Fuoco told the Times the allegations were “false,” and NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said he thought the union had handled the situation appropriately.

The NewsGuild and its parent union, the Communications Workers of America, concluded its investigation into Fuoco in December 2020, three months after he resigned. In March, the union hired Feaster, a former journalist, to assess the culture of the Pittsburgh Guild.

In her report, Feaster noted that multiple people reported stories of “alcohol-fueled inappropriate behavior” at union events including inappropriate kissing and unwanted advances, uncomfortable sexual discussions, unwelcome comments about women’s appearances and “informal warnings” about members who women should avoid being alone with.

“Slightly more than 50% of those interviewed initially stated they had not seen or heard about inappropriate behavior, but then in discussions, some of those same individuals told stories of inappropriate behavior, comments, or culture,” the report reads.

Multiple people also reported stories of older members behaving inappropriately with interns and two-year associates in the Post-Gazette newsroom. Some interviewees told Feaster that they did not report incidents of harassment because they believed human resources would not act upon them and that an “old boys” network would protect the accused.

“Women had to be super tough, because the older women had taken it, sexism was a part of the job,” one person said. “The rumors were that when harassment happened and a woman reported it, she left, and he got promoted.”

The report notes that the incidents mentioned happened at various points over the past 20 years and “should not be considered simply a snapshot of what is happening right now within the Local.” Some respondents said they hadn’t seen any harassment and thought the issues were “overblown.”

“We take very seriously our obligation to provide a workplace free from harassment. The company has honored its obligation in the past and will continue to do so,” wrote Steven Stockdale, the director of human resources at BCI Broadband and Publishing Divisions, in an emailed statement. Block Communications, Inc., is the publisher of the Post-Gazette.

Feaster also asked respondents about the organizational climate at the local. A third of the interviewees referenced an “Old Boys’ network” that protected older reporters to the disadvantage of younger ones. Some younger members also found it difficult to participate at union meetings since their questions were met with “derision and eye rolling.”

Nearly three-quarters of respondents mentioned alcohol use at union events, and some said they thought it contributed to inappropriate behavior.

Respondents also mentioned The New York Times story, which elicited “substantial consternation.” While some reflected on interactions they might have missed or questioned whether more egregious behavior was going unreported, others questioned whether enough information was known to warrant the criticism in the article.

Feaster concluded that though members expressed support for the union, leadership needed to demonstrate a willingness to implement change to build trust with members.

“People want to be a part of a successful entity — whether it is a winning sports team, a respected business, or a robust Pittsburgh Guild; members want to be a part of something that works,” the report reads. “Current Pittsburgh Guild leadership has an opportunity to reset and rebuild the brand as a winning team, and then will need to protect the brand.”

Among Feaster’s 18 recommendations for the NewsGuild and the Pittsburgh local are suggestions for various trainings, new ways to report incidents of harassment and discrimination, revisions to the local’s alcohol policy, and the development of a definition of harassment and a code of conduct.

In a press release sharing the report, the NewsGuild announced it has already started to implement several changes. The union will provide members with instructions on how to report another member for harassment, and it will train stewards to handle and prevent harassment. The group’s executive council will also review a resolution requiring yearly anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all local officers.

The CWA’s Constitution Committee is further considering three amendments, one of which adds “fighting harassment and discrimination” as a core objective of the union.

A town hall for NewsGuild members will take place Wednesday night to discuss the report.

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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