Last October, The Scrapbook took note of Politico’s curious decision to hire Mike Elk as one of the publication’s labor reporters. Aside from the fact that Elk has a long history of questionable labor activism that makes impartiality impossible, he also has a history of erratic behavior and has on a number of occasions publicly said he has mental health issues. At the same time, Elk is not without ability as a reporter and his pro-labor sympathies mean he has excellent union sources.
Unsurprisingly, a follow-up is in order. Last week, Elk raised eyebrows when he started tweeting about his campaign to unionize Politico’s newsroom: “We got a beachhead [at] Politico & are moving inland as we are encountering almost no opposition #solidarity.” Elk has also invited his fellow employees to discuss unionizing at a D.C. establishment called the Marx Cafe (which Elk, as it happens, co-owns). Politico has major expansion plans at the moment, and it will be interesting to see whether the threat of unionization has any implications for those.
When other media sources began inquiring about Elk’s organizing efforts, he was all too eager to talk about his plans. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post interviewed Elk and found his rationale a bit wanting:
Overwork is a problem that Elk plans on addressing in his union drive. “I can’t work the kind of hours I did when I was 24,” says Elk, who is 28. Putting in too many work hours, he says, is a problem of journalism as an industry and not exclusive to Politico. “Everyone works so much, it’s almost tough to get people to get together to talk about” forming a union, he says.
Elsewhere Elk has said that he feels he needs to “clock out” every day at six because Politico has no overtime policy. Politico has a reputation as a hard-driving newsroom, but the available evidence suggests Elk, at least, is not being overworked. He has not had a bylined story at Politico since December 9.
However, The Scrapbook commends Elk for his efforts, even as we confess to a little bit of schadenfreude. Politico hired Mike Elk, and they’re getting what one would expect—good and hard. Further, whether Elk realizes it or not, his attempt at organizing—which may be almost entirely limited to casual conversations with his fellow employees—is a stroke of genius. He’s an admittedly erratic employee who’s been fired in a very public fashion before, but his nascent attempt at organizing Politico makes him basically untouchable by management without opening a legal can of worms. Elk may look toward Karl Marx for inspiration and solidarity, but what he’s done is the pinnacle of self-interested office politics.