We were deeply saddened to read Emily Janakiram’s accounting of her experience at Verso. As Emily stated in her initial complaint, Verso’s Managing Director shared a conversation and a drink with Emily after an industry event in September 2018 and offered to split a taxi ride back to Brooklyn, which was declined. Much of Emily’s recent statement focuses on the grievance process that she initiated a few months after the event, Verso’s response to that initial complaint, and the painful aftermath that culminated in Emily’s departure from Verso.
Verso’s current harassment and grievance policy was overhauled by Verso’s staff and management, drawing from progressive organizations around the world, and was enacted by its board in June 2018. Nevertheless, the new policy failed its first test, with serious ramifications for Emily and other Verso staff.
The Verso Board apologizes unreservedly to all past and present staff for the failures and inadequacies of our grievance process. It is clear that we could have done more for Emily at the time. All of us at Verso, starting with the Board, owe it to each other to identify what could be improved and to implement measures to make sure that this painful experience doesn’t happen again.
As written, Verso’s policy had no specific mechanism for addressing complaints against a senior member of management. Emily’s concerns have highlighted the importance of having investigations into concerns like hers conducted in a way that inspires faith and confidence in the process.
It is plain to anyone who reads Emily’s account that she did not feel that faith or confidence. We deeply regret the hardship that this caused Emily.
After Emily’s departure, an independent investigation concluded that the policy’s procedures were properly followed and that conduct related to concerns that she subsequently raised after her departure did not violate any of Verso’s policies. Nevertheless, Emily’s very real concerns have prompted Verso to undertake a global review of our policy to identify ways it could be changed to increase confidence in the process. If members of our staff feel that Verso’s policy against harassment and retaliation is anything less than as strong and robust as it could be, then we must do everything we can to address those concerns.
Emily’s statement cited the lack of a union as one reason that she felt unable to escalate her complaint. Our US staff has since unionized with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild (WBNG), voluntarily recognized by Verso, and our UK staff is in the process of organizing with the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Women’s groups in both offices, driven in part by solidarity with Emily, were central to the organizing drive. Verso’s management is now working closely with staff and unions in the US and UK to replace our harassment policy with one that will address issues cited by Emily in addition to others that have since been identified.
Good intentions are not sufficient to develop good workplace policy. They are no substitute for inclusive, collective bargaining, and a commitment to include expert opinion and advice to help navigate these complex and difficult areas. Bringing this process to a swift and decisive conclusion is our first priority. We will not rest until this is done, after which we look forward to constructive, collective bargaining with WBNG and NUJ to continue to address issues as they arise in the workplace.
Above all, the Verso Board is committed to helping to ensure a safe, constructive and rewarding work environment for all our staff.
The Verso Board of Directors, 5th February 2021.