Striking Truthdig Staff Respond To Allegations By Publisher

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Above: On the Ropes by Mr. Fish March 17, 2020.

Note: This morning Zuade Kaufman published an “Open Letter from Truthdig’s Publisher & CEO: Breaking My Silence” on Truthdig. On March 11, 2020, we published, Truthdig Employees Stop Work To Protest Labor Conditions describing the strike by workers at Truthdig due to the actions of the publisher and her treatment of the founder and editor of Truthdig, Robert Scheer. Below is the response from the staff to Ms. Kaufman’s open letter.
KZ

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.

Chris Hedges
Kasia Anderson
Jacob Sugarman
Natasha Hakimi Zapata
Eunice Wong
Ilana Novick
Mr. Fish
Paul Street
Lee Camp

  • Richard Burrill

    Ms. Kaufman seems to be a typical corporate boss. If what you wrote is true, she has no right to call herself a progressive.

  • Thank you, Popular Resistance, for keeping us informed about this vital matter.

    Solidarity!

  • Jenny Kastner

    Don’t let her do to TruthDig what Marty Perez did to Ramparts. She’s out to destroy this fine, progressive voice!

  • SnowBrdr

    While working as a member of the PDA National Field team I had the pleasure of meeting & working together with Robert Scheer on several occasions. Robert is an excellent, outstandingly honest fighting patriot for truth. I support Mr. Scheer and the staff fighting for the progressive values, including fair labor practices for the all workers.

  • Strongly suspect — were someone to properly investigate Ms. Kaufman’s background — they would discover she has clandestine links to one of more of the secret-police agencies that relentlessly oppress us on behalf of our infinitely Evil Neoliberal masters.

    What Ms. Kaufman is running reeks of a spook-formula operation for suppression of any allegedly “dangerous” organization or publication: infiltrate; destabilize; co-opt; impose “emergency” (shock-doctrine) measures; destroy.

    Indeed it would be difficult (if not impossible) to find any other rational explanation for Ms. Kaufman’s conduct.

    As Lev Bronstein so memorably observed more than a century ago: “In every gathering of three revolutionaries, there is at least one agent of the Okhrana.”

    (Not that such warnings — vital in pre-Revolutionary Russia — will do Moron Nation any good at all. The Moronic Majority has proven by its frantic embrace of Biden that it is already so nazified it will NEVER seek reforms, much less rebel — not even when global disaster provides, as the coronavirus is providing, both clear motive and unmistakable opportunity for such a stride forward.)

  • gustave courbet

    I’m curious about the “#MeToo” angle that Kaufman implies in this drama. It seems implausible that the writing staff would support Scheer if he were a lecherous or inappropriate boss.

  • kevinzeese

    Good point. Kaufman seems to be weaponizing a movement with vague allegations that if they were even true were never investigated. It makes her seem desperate and dishonarble.

  • Emma Niles

    Former Truthdig employee here! I worked at Truthdig for just short of two years. I fully and unequivocally support the striking writers and editors, and agree with everything they’ve outlined thus far — the labor practices at such a “progressive” publication were shocking, and the only highlights of my time at Truthdig were Mr. Scheer’s editorial guidance, my fellow writers and the keen eye of the copy desk.

  • Helen4Yemen

    I used to like the Truthdig website and I used to enjoy commenting there
    until about 3 years ago and I do believe it is this very same woman who
    arrived and changed so much and she began to delete so many comments
    for no reason. Most offensive were short rude comments back to my comments.
    Of course, I left!

  • Jon

    I remember him as a then-young activist writer for Ramparts and a vehement anti-war activist.

  • Jon

    An investigation worth pursuijg, it seems to me.

  • SnowBrdr

    …One in the same, Scheer had the full confidence of PDA founder Tim Carpenter, who I had worked with since 1984, whom I had full confidence in…

  • Brave. Thanks.

  • kevinzeese

    We are going to start hositing Robert Scheer’s podcast, Scheer Intelligence. We hope the staff and Scheer can find a positive resolution with their major donor. They are an important site and source for news analysis.

    Welcome.

  • There are undoubtedly who misuse the MeToo approach and they will cause harm to women who are being completely honest and need our support. There is no way of telling whether Kaufman is one of those who just find it convenient to throw in allegations of misconduct. If not true, it is a terrible thing to do. I tend to agree with your comment.

  • kevinzeese

    We just added the podcast of Truthdig editor, Robert Scheer, to Popular Resistance. The first installment of Scheer Intelligence is here https://popularresistance.org/scheer-intelligence-the-afghanistan-war-turned-americans-into-good-germans/

  • Land of the Free

    Good! I remember you, and your comments were often atrocious. Good riddance, komrade

  • Helen4Yemen

    You mean I was supposed to say a European people, the Ashkenazi,
    so European that their DNA reads 100% European but who arrived
    masquerading as Israelite had the right to invade and steal Arab land?
    Is that what you call “atrocious”? Remember that Palestine is Arab,
    just as Arab as Jordan and Iraq and the European Jew who was never
    known in our region is just another European invader like the French,
    the British, the Italians.

  • doldrum pant

    Better copy the comments over there if anyone wants them. Looks like they might be starting to close down the disqus comments. Are they?

  • I can think if another rational explanation–or least a plausible human explanation–for Kaufman’s actions. Egotism and vanity.

  • Very likely. They might switch to a different system–doesn’t Kos Conservocrat Moulitsas own a new commenting-forum operation, the one which the slowly dying Mother Jones switched to recently?–or not bother with the opinion of us groundlings at all.

    The Disqus comments appear to have been one means by which the word about the editorial coup at Truthdig has propogated to the public.

    Good to read that Popular Resistance has adopted Scheer Intelligence as a regular feature. It will bring myself and many more genuine fighting liberals and real progressives to Popular Resistance much more often in the future, and the way things have been going lately this is where we should be anyway.

  • Thank you.

  • doldrum pant

    broke the silence, now breaking the noise.

  • doldrum pant

    it appears they now had a total shutdown:

    “Truthdig is going on a hiatus, which we hope will not be for too
    long. Our archives of 15 years of award-winning independent journalism
    are available for free. We plan to relaunch with an even deeper and
    stronger commitment to bringing you honest, credible reporting and
    analysis.
    Be well, stay safe and look out for each other.”

  • Yes. So I understand. There may be a legal fight behind that.

  • doldrum pant

    Comments have been locked out of their articles on disqus now as well.

  • V4V

    Never heard of Ms. Kaufman, but I have heard of Chris Hedges. Hedges has a lot of credibility in my book, so you know which side I’m on.

  • Maj. Danny Sjursen, whose writings have been featured prominently by Truthdig, has migrated to Popular Resistance.
    That’s if you hadn’t noticed already.
    Hopefully Hedges and others from the Truthdig roster of journalists will do likewise.

    (I tried posting this comment earlier with a link to Sjursen’s article here, but for some reason comments with certain URLs–internal links to a Disqus page or a given website using Disqus–get dropped into the “Pending” box automatically, from which they do not emerge. I recall a similar issue at In Our Times awhile back. Possibly it’s a protective measure against spamming or malicious hacking–I don’t think it’s anything nefarious anyhow. Sjursen’s piece is titled “Epidemic Exacerbation: Washington’s Shameful Record of Hypocrisy” and it is easy enough to locate at Popular Resistance and well worth reading in my opinion.)

  • Hey Kevin, Any insight into what happened to The Real News? My understanding (from the Naked Capitalism article) is that it’s similar to what happened to TD.

  • If you could please keep this article somewhere on the home page that would be easier for people to find. – Thanks!

  • so the prospect of working to inform the people of the real happenings worldwide held no appeal. ;pitiful

  • so i guess if a bunch of milionaires got together and said that in all their millions that they were earning,they didnt have enough vacation. they wanted to go on strike, at the expense of the people that benefited from them. would you stand and say “solidarity”? solidarity for anybody who claims poverty or to be for the poor? even when they are not? when unions were formed, the working conditions were nothing like todays’ they were truly terrible- work 14 hours a day seven days a week, equivalent of ten bucks a day, and such- so this is nothing like real hardship.nor for the instituting of unions- the case is that boojie want more comforts and dont care that the service they give, much needed, is at risk oif being lost. and shame on the people who joiin the bandwagon and cry “solidarity’ to applaud that behavior.

  • i tend to agree there. While i place blame for this on staff, i agree that this is also disingenuous. both sides are at fault.