The National Writers Union today hailed the settlement of a six-year-old dispute involving Writers Union member Jeff Schmidt, who was dismissed from his job as a veteran staff editor at Physics Today magazine after he authored a controversial book. “The Writers Union protested Schmidt’s dismissal back in June 2000 as an attack on free speech rights, and now we are happy to see that this long battle has come to a successful conclusion,” said National Writers Union President Gerald Colby.
Schmidt, a member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Writers Union, was fired in 2000 after 19 years on the staff of Physics Today, which is published by the non-profit American Institute of Physics. The dismissal came right after his supervisors learned that he had written a book called Disciplined Minds, which had just been published by Rowman & Littlefield. An article about the book had appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education and was making the rounds at the offices of Physics Today.
Schmidt admits that his book, whose subtitle is A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes their Lives, was written in a provocative tone. In fact, in the book’s opening lines, he declares that the book was “written in part on stolen time,” i.e., during free time at the office. Schmidt called his dismissal from Physics Today“further proof of the book’s thesis that management’s paramount concern is always the political content of the work—even spare-time work.”
Schmidt and his supporters sought justice mainly through public pressure. Nearly 1000 physicists, union activists and others spoke out on his behalf.
Under the terms of the settlement, which Schmidt negotiated with pro bono help from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the law firm Howrey LLP, Schmidt will receive a large payment settling his claim for nearly six years of back pay and benefits, front pay in lieu of reinstatement, and other damages. He will also get a positive reference letter and other consideration, including the right to make public the lengthy settlement agreement.
Cambridge University physicist Sanjoy Mahajan, one of the organizers of the protests against Schmidt’s dismissal, has posted the agreement and details of how the battle was won here.
The National Writers Union, Local 1981 of the United Auto Workers, is a labor union and advocacy organization for freelance journalists, authors, technical writers, poets and other types of writers.