In response to the publication of a recent article that did not reach out for comment prior to its release, PEN America has provided the following statement:

While we do not ordinarily comment on ongoing union negotiations, we must speak out to rebut the false claim that PEN America is seeking to chill the political speech of our employees.  In July of 2023 in the course of collective bargaining negotiations with a staff union that had been voluntarily recognized by PEN America, PEN America proposed language relating to political activity that was intended to ensure compliance with our legal obligations as a 501(c)(3) non-partisan organization and the avoidance of conflicts of interest for the organization that could result from an employee playing a public role in a political campaign or running for office. The proposed language was informed by prior experience with a staff member who had launched a campaign for local political office as a partisan candidate while employed at PEN America, an activity that would have involved working hours, raising compliance and conflict of interest concerns for the organization.

As a free expression organization, we do not interfere with personal, political or other expression of our employees, many of whom are active on social media and other arenas. The proposed contractual language has been under discussion with the union in recent weeks, and we have reiterated our position that the organization does not seek to curtail the political activities of staff, except insofar as they may compromise PEN America’s legal compliance with non-profit law, and thus our mission as well. Our most recent counterproposal read, in full: “PEN America believes in the free expression of employees’ personal religious, political, social, or economic beliefs.  Employees shall not be disciplined for the expression of such beliefs while off-duty, except where such conduct impacts the ability of PEN America to engage in its mission. Notwithstanding the foregoing, PEN America’s policies prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation shall continue to apply.”  On March 14 in negotiations PEN America management suggested removing the paragraph on political activity entirely and that the collective bargaining agreement include no language at all on the subject.  At that meeting the union indicated it did not wish to delete the provision and that it would counter the proposal, language that management is now awaiting.  We look forward to continuing our negotiation.