A top labor union for journalists says it plans to investigate the parent company of USA Today over allegations of unpaid overtime and other abuses across the company.
In a letter sent to Chief Executive Officer at Gannett Co. Mike Reed, NewsGuild president Jon Schleuss said he was "deeply concerned by the culture of overwork and unpaid overtime" which employees at various newspapers owned by the company say is widespread.
Schleuss noted a tweet from Rebekah Sanders, a journalist at the Arizona Republic, in which she told colleagues in the media industry: "Don't work for nothing" and shared her experiences of being unpaid for overtime worked at the Gannett-owned newspaper.
Michael Braga, an investigative editor at the paper, responded to Sanders's tweet by saying "every business exploits the young — it's called gaining experience, and I don't regret it one bit."
Braga later apologized for the remark in a separate tweet.
Every business exploits the young - it’s called gaining experience, and I don’t regret it one bit. If I hadn’t worked hard when I was younger, I wouldn’t have been given more responsibility and more money when I was older.— Michael Braga (@MichaelBraga2) September 11, 2021
Schleuss wrote the online spat is an example of what he called a "pattern" of "illegal exploitation" that has been reported to the NewsGuild and has led to a trend nationwide of media professionals leaving the industry.
"The Guild, made up of hundreds of Gannett journalists, is launching an investigation of the company's culture and practices. To start, we will be surveying employees about their unpaid overtime experiences," Schleuss wrote. "We urge you to investigate throughout the company as well."
In a statement to The Hill on Tuesday, a Gannett spokesperson pushed back on the assertions in Schleuss' letter.
“Gannett values all our employees," the company said. "We strive to provide meaningful opportunities and fair compensation during a very challenging time for our industry and we strongly disagree that there is a culture of exploitation. Quite the contrary, we respect the law and have extensive policies, procedures, and training to ensure compliance with the FLSA and other workplace laws and regulations."
Schleuss's letter, the media conglomerate said is "just another example of The NewsGuild's agenda to share misinformation as it attempts to organize and expand its membership ranks."
Another Arizona Republic reporter, Priscilla Totiyapungprasert, told CNN Business some editors at the paper have "berated" her for asking for overtime pay.