On Recent Developments Between Poets Union and SPD

TL;DR — On Tuesday, June 8th, Poets Union was informed by email (from an account called “spdworkersorganize,” which we now determine to have been management) that a sizable number of current and former workers oppose our boycott. However, as argued below, we had, and have, no reason to credit this statement or alter course. Among multiple other significant concerns, we know for a fact that their emailed statement was initiated and in part dictated by the interim Executive Director (see evidence below). Further, it should be plain to any reader that the statement from SPD was more concerned with exonerating Trisha Low, Jane Gregory, and Andrew Pai — despite our never once having mentioned them in any of our statements — than with seeking to redress any harm to the workers who have spoken out in the past and recently. What follows here is a detailed account of the exchange between SPD and PU, and we feel this needs to be offered now that SPD has both tweeted this and emailed their statement to all of their presses along with the allegation that we did not act in good faith. Also included here is a screenshot of the email that the ED sent to intimidate staff into signing onto a statement. The ED’s email was provided to us by a worker and is being shared now at their insistence. In sharing this with the public, PU remains focused on providing resources to navigate the systems of dysfunction, abuse, and exploitation in our communities, and we think the detailed account below is necessary to document SPD’s continued worker abuse and intimidation.

KEY POINT: There are three testimonies referred to below and they represent different perspectives

  1. Current worker testimony published by PU on June 3rd 
  2. Current & former worker testimony published on June 10th
  3. SPD statement sent to presses June 10th and published via SPD’s Twitter June 11th

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On Tuesday, June 8th, we received an email from SPD. In it, we were officially informed that a sizable majority of those behind “spdworkersorganize” did not support our boycott. Additionally, it informed us of Brent Cunningham’s supposedly imminent departure at the end of June, and (perplexingly, since we never once mentioned them in any statement) attempted to exonerate Trisha Low, Jane Gregory, and Andrew Pai. We replied to this message by thanking them for reaching out and offering support for any organizing efforts they may undertake in the future. We also offered a few questions, including, “What do you expect of us? Will you be making a public statement? And when would the public know this about Brent?” However, rather than replying to us, we were informed by an intermediary (more on this below) that they planned to release their statement publicly if we did not pull our boycott statement (but even this was uncertain). However, on Thursday, June 10th, before either an emailed reply from “spdworkersorganize” or a public release of their statement, a new statement from a group of seven anonymous former and current workers appeared that offered support for the boycott. This statement also made serious allegations against the current state of SPD, and indicated that management was controlling messaging (more on this below). This event totally realigned the tense dynamic between SPD and PU, and in the wake of this statement, SPD released to all of its presses (hundreds of them), and to its social media followers, its original emailed statement to us, along with an allegation that PU had not received it in good faith. This allegation is false.

We had no reason to believe that SPD’s efforts to reach out to us were themselves in good faith. Shortly after we released our boycott statement, a third party (who is a known associate and friend of former SPD managers who have been named for abuse and complicity) contacted a member of Poets Union who had in recent months not been involved directly with our organizing, and who had not been promoting the boycott. This third party promised to establish a “back channel” of communication between SPD and us and they eventually put our member in touch with a manager. Not only did we deeply mistrust this third party’s intentions, their approach was unnecessary since our boycott statement provided our email and directly invited workers to contact us. Further, the insistence on communicating only by phone via a “back channel” with one currently marginal member of ours roused suspicions even more. In sum, this outreach to us constituted little more than a doubtful and suspicious smear campaign against whistleblowers, including a current worker, and harmed former workers. This also made an attempt to confuse and divide our own group

However, in addition to all of this suspicious behavior, we knew that their emailed statement had been made under direct pressure from the interim Executive Director. The ED not only indicated that such a statement was needed for workers “to save [their] jobs” but also told them what they needed to say by providing a two-page document of talking points that also appear in the “spdworkersorganize” email to us. In short, their emailed statement was compelled by and in part dictated by the ED, and this came in a context of intimidation and censure of the worker whose testimony we published. Further, this current worker whom we published was not asked to participate in the writing of the public statement from SPD. The fact that they were not even asked to participate shows management is increasing tactics of isolating staff that have opposing viewsMake no mistake: SPD is a majority management organization, and the majority of signees were necessarily management.

Below is a screenshot of the email from the ED. It was made available to us by a worker, and we share it now at their insistence so the public can have a more informed perspective on the state of things at SPD:

At this point, let us be clear: in pressuring and leaving it to workers to sign a statement outlined by management, the ED and Board have again thrown workers under the bus solely for PR purposes that could have and should have been handled by the ED and Board weeks if not months ago. In response to our boycott – not to mention the many previous public statements prior to ours – they could have informed the public of the definitive date for Brent’s departure; they could have put out key, anonymized passages from the OIG report; they could have explained the many recent departures from the board and said where it stood and why; and they could have given a more recent update on how they’ve been implementing changes to their workplace, especially regarding HR and grievance reporting. Instead, they dodged these issues and chose to pressure workers into doing PR for them—further evidence of SPD’s tactics of deflection and intimidation.

Ultimately, we had, and have, no reason to credit the emailed statement from “spdworkersorganize” or to alter our course. This is not simply because of the evidence and argument above, but also because we have a very serious duty to the whistleblower who placed their trust in PU. Since giving us their testimony and supporting the boycott publicly, they have been isolated and intimidated, their job is at risk, and it would be a cruel betrayal of their trust for us to back down, especially now in light of the ED’s intimidation tactics. Their testimony is quite serious and has been reinforced by others in the letter published on June 10th, and we do not believe it serves anyone for us to diminish it through pulling the boycott. Further, we have a duty to Damaged Book Worker and other former workers who have trusted us and whose interests are not represented in any way whatsoever by the “spdworkersorganize” email. Poets Union supports workers, and this also means standing up for those who have been intimidated, abused, and/or discarded by a workplace and are now in a position of great vulnerability, both professionally and personally. We are committed to protecting and supporting the whistleblower who reached out to us, and if they are fired, the public will know.­­ We have their back.

To summarize our position on this exchange between SPD and PU: we assert that the statement from SPD to PU was initiated and in part dictated by the ED and those seeking to exonerate Trisha Low, Jane Gregory, and Andrew Pai, and its main achievement is to deflect attention away from the Board and those who truly control the fate of SPD.

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