The Mirror

European Warfare! Politico Under Fire For Being Anti-Union

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger

Politico‘s senior labor reporter Mike Elk, who is suddenly no longer on the masthead, has allegedly been fired from the publication. And now, there’s more.

The European Federation of Journalists, an organization that represents over 32,000 journalists across Europe, has issued a stern letter to Politico President and CEO Jim VandeHei. The group is upset about “reports” that Politico may be hiring journalists to cover Europe who are based in the “right-to-work” state of Virginia.

The letter from Ricardo Gutierrez, General Secretary of the EFJ, also states that the group is upset to learn that Politico has fired Elk, who insists he’s on a pre-planned vacation.

Elk refuses to confirm or deny that he’s been fired. He would not answer repeated email requests for comment about it from The Mirror. He gave an interview to New York Mag’s Marin Cogan. He also wouldn’t tell her whether he’d been fired.

But he said he had an unpleasant conversation with Politico Pro Editor Marty Kady that he felt could result in termination. So he bluntly stopped it, saying he had a right to have his union rep present.

“Marty Kady, the editor of Politico Pro, called me while I was on vacation and started to have a phone conversation with me that appeared adversarial,” he told Cogan. “I informed Marty that under federal labor law that I had Weingarten rights and the right to have my union rep present if I felt the conversation could result in discipline or termination. I’m on vacation — the union is handling all further stuff on this, as I am just trying to relax.

“As a PTSD survivor, I have the right to medical privacy, and I’m not going to comment on it at this time as we go through this process. I’m really glad to be a member of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild to handle these kinds of stressful situations. I feel really strongly that the story really isn’t about me, the story is about why digital-media workers are trying to organize across the industry.”

Elk said Politico will one day form a union. He was aghast that some reporters would talk crap about him behind his back to various publications.

“I never imagined I’d work in a newsroom where reporters talk shit on a fellow co-worker anonymously,” he told Cogan. “That being said, I don’t hold any grudges with those people. I just wish that I knew who they were so that I could invite them out for beers and talk to them about unions.”

While Elk has always made a point to speak glowingly of Politico’s Virginia newsroom editor Susan Glasser — at least while he worked there — he’s now critical of her and VandeHei.

“I think the attitude that Susan and Jim have taken regarding the union drive has had a real chilling effect that has prevented other people in the newsroom from speaking up,” he said.

Another point of contention from the European journalist group: The assertion that Politico “refuses” to acknowledge the organizing campaign going on in its own newsroom.

Anyone who has followed the year-long ordeal knows that Elk was never going to leave quietly. If they forced him out, chances were high that he was going to make life difficult for Politico management.

The history of his employment there is anything but a fairytale. He went to work for Politico in September of 2014. At the time, he promised he would not try to organize the newsroom. But by December, he couldn’t help himself — it’s in his blood — and he announced his intent to to do just that. He began granting media interviews and sending out emails to coworkers to convince them what a good idea a union was.

In December, management ordered Elk to work from home on account of his PTSD. By January, he released a statement saying that Politico management was helpfully accommodating his condition.

But really, he was never welcomed back into the workplace. As they continued to pay him as a full-time employee, they blatantly stopped publishing his work.

The Mirror sought comment from VandeHei.

Read the full letter to VandeHei below:

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