Pride at Work, a national organization that supports LGQBTIA+ workers in the labor movement, recognized NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss on Friday with a Solidarity Award “for creating a new spirit of organizing in your union and your inspirational leadership as an out labor leader.”
AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond was also recognized.
NewsGuild member Chris Serres, an award-winning reporter at the Star Tribune, presented Schleuss with the award and spoke about the massive organizing in the Guild and about our union’s willingness to engage in fights that come in conflict with journalistic notions of “objectivity.”
In his presentation, Serres described being shot with rubber bullets by police while he was covering protests after the murder of George Floyd. Schleuss called Serres afterward and that conversation was a big factor prompting the Guild to join the ACLU of Minnesota in a lawsuit against city and state police for targeting journalists who were simply doing their jobs.
Here’s the text of Schleuss’ speech:
That was really sweet. That makes me sound a lot more exciting than I think that I am.
Thank you so much to Pride At Work, thanks to the Executive Board, Jerame. This has been such an amazing conference. Can we just give a round of applause to everyone who put this together.
I also really want to thank – cause these moments that we’re in right now – especially as a queer community are possible because so many people fought and died so that we could have a place here.
I want to dedicate this award to our members because our members are our true strength. When I talk about my job – and I was in bargaining virtually earlier today with our members at the Dallas Morning News, who are amazing. They were just running bargaining the whole time. And when I talk about what I think my job is, is that my job is to help them build larger fires. That the workers start the fire and I bring the fuel to add to the fires to make the fires larger.
Chris is right about the growth of the union. We’ve grown by 50% [in the U.S. in five years], but it’s also inclusive of a lot of other groups that are not necessarily media, which I talked about last night. It includes folks at nonprofits. So recently the folks at Southern Poverty Law Center they organized. [Applause]
They just won an amazing first contract that included retirement benefits that made me say, “Well, do they have any job openings there?” They’re really good.
It also includes—we joined a lawsuit against the Minnesota State Patrol and the city of Minneapolis, where we’re still working on a settlement. I was just here a month ago with those journalists who were injured during the protests and coverage, and we joined with the ACLU of Minnesota and then afterwards the staff of ACLU of Minnesota said, “Can we also unionize?”
We were like, “Yeah, let’s do that too.” So the ACLU of Minnesota is part of our union. [Applause]
And so many other groups. We also represent staff of the AFL-CIO. Right now, we’re…[Applause] A lot of staff at different SEIU locals , so sometimes I’m in conflict with other union leaders. But it’s all mostly good. Right now, I don’t think Fred — Fred and I are good right. Bargaining’s next year. We’ll get more aggressive then.
It’s a real honor because some of those folks are our best activists. People like y’all in this room because you’re an active member on staff or inside your union because you know how to make this happen. You’re able to help convert the 3s, or the 4s, or the 5s, the people we talk about who are on the fence or maybe ambiguous, or maybe ignorant. Like Jordie, wherever you are you were talking about not knowing what a union was not that long ago, but then found that with your colleagues at Starbucks. And so, it’s so incumbent on us to actually spread this gospel.
I think of it like a church, like this is the church. The union hall is our church. That’s our place where we go. And our strength is with each other, and we really have to bring everyone to this fight.
I’m not going to speak much more. The highlights of what our Guild members have been able to achieve in places, like in Dallas and at the Southern Poverty Law Center are really amazing things that I think really affect our community and it’s been so awesome to see them push for things like requiring in the interview process that we interview a certain percentage of people from underrepresented groups so that we’re actually creating diversity in our staff. So that we’re building true worker-management diversity committees where we’re pushing things.
One of the good examples of that was a decision to actually add another reporter to cover the Asian-American community in Los Angeles and the Inland Empire [It was broader than just the Inland Empire – all of SoCal] and that was a really great thing to do because it added coverage to a community that was underrepresented in the reporting of the Los Angeles Times.
We’ve also been pushing… At the L.A. Times, too, right after we unionized, the first thing we did, me being a data reporter, was very excited about this. We filed for information on how much people were making so we could get that data so we could use it in bargaining. But we quickly turned around and we figured out what the pay equity issues were. We found that men were making a lot more than women and that people of color were making a lot less than white people. The experience level was the same. The skill level was the same. The work was the same. It made no sense. So we went public with those findings and the company was like, “That’s not true.” We went, “These are Pulitzer Prize winning reporters saying that it’s true, so it’s true.”
Just at the L.A. Times, we took them to court and we won a class-action lawsuit that settled and gave people millions of dollars. [Applause.]
That was a power that we didn’t have. And then we had a union and we had this ability to get this information out of our organization and out of the company and turn it around and turn it into a thing that actually changed people’s lives. And the people who had moved on from the L.A. Times and moved on to different organizations and different places were calling me up and saying, “Jon, I just got a check for $10,000 because I was underpaid because of my race. Can we also organize with you?” “Yes!”
We’ve also been pushing to be more inclusive in our language in our contracts for our trans comrades and our non-binary comrades and making sure that we’re pushing for making sure we’re covering gender-affirming care and most recently, once of the most amazing things is that after the Supreme Court decision was leaked and – the leak was done by Politico reporters who unionized with the NewsGuild – so we’re providing transparency to that institution.
But right after that we gathered around — and I really try to be member-led, so we brought members together along with our staff and we tried to figure out what are we actually going to do? Because this is ticking us off. And I went back in our archives and I talked to a few people in the Guild who have been around a lot longer than I have and I said, “Have we ever dealt with this issue?” And they were like, “Yeah, actually we have. The NewsGuild actually affirmed a women’s right to have control over her own body and choose whether or not she wanted to an abortion back in 1982 [It was at the 1981 Convention].
I was like, “That’s amazing. Okay, but what we are we going to do? I don’t want to just do statements. I want to do things in practice. So we got together with our members and we came up with model contract language. What Tim was talking about this morning, about making sure that in your health care plan you can actually provide abortion access and travel access. It’s so essential. That’s a power that we have.
That’s a power that we have when we’re unionized and our members [Applause]
I feel so honored and humbled to be in this role truly at 32 – now I’m 34 — with more gray hair. I feel so humbled. And if you’re out there and you feel like you can’t run for union office, and you don’t like the union leadership right now, you can run for union office. And you should run for union office. We were talking about this earlier. You should run for union office [pointing to someone in the audience]. We’ll talk about it later.
This is something we should make sure that we’re constantly doing. We’re constantly trying to improve our organizations. And the competition in elections is vital for democracy in the labor movement. So please run and remember y’all, “We have more power than we know.”