Union activist, News labor reporter Helen Fogel dies

Kyla Smith
The Detroit News

Helen Fogel, a labor pioneer and former Detroit News staff writer who played a key role in negotiating the first union contract for the newspaper’s editorial staff, was known as a fearless leader and trusted journalist.

Ms. Fogel, who worked at The News as a labor reporter, died Saturday, May 16, 2015, of pneumonia at a nursing home in Pasadena, California. She was 84.

“Helen was a real legend,” said Susan Whitall, pop culture, music and books writer at The News. “She was very helpful and had a lot of sources. She knew everyone.”

Lou Mleczko, a former News staff writer and retired president and administrative officer of the Newspaper Guild of Detroit, said Ms. Fogel didn’t let anyone intimidate her.

“When Helen started working at the paper, it was male-dominated. They were unsure of how to react to her,” Mleczko said. “After a while, people saw that they could trust her. She was a tough character.”

During her career, Ms. Fogel also worked for the Detroit Free Press.

Chuck Fogel remembers his mother as someone who thrived on the adrenaline rush that came with working in a newsroom.

“I know that she really loved the competitive atmosphere and living by her wits each day,” Fogel said. “She worked on so many different stories with intense long hours but I know she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

Through her efforts and negotiating skills, Ms. Fogel played an integral role in the bargaining that led to the first union contract for News staff members in 1975. Bernie Lunzer, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA, said not only was Ms. Fogel active in fighting for the union, she pushed for women’s rights in the newsroom.

“Before, women were geared toward writing for society pages, but Helen rallied for women to cover real news stories,” Lunzer said. “She was someone that was always in the forefront, a real objective writer and an important reporter in the union movement.”

James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said Ms. Fogel had a knack for covering the labor beat.

“She was incredibly talented and had a very practical way of educating readers on the struggle of working men and women,” Hoffa said.

In her final years, while her mobility was limited, Ms. Fogel still craved her independence. She lived in her birth state of Maine until moving cross country to live close to her son in California earlier this year.

“What I will miss most about my mom is her sense of humor and the ability to laugh and find humor in bleak situations,” Fogel said. “She was a really smart, fun and loving lady.”

Ms. Fogel is survived by her two sons, Chuck and Mark, and two grandchildren.

ksmith3@detroitnews.com