Workers to Protest Pacifica Radio Over Union Busting

Written by Rebecca Rosen Lum. Posted in Labor, News

Tagged: , , , , ,

Published on April 16, 2012 with 26 Comments

File photo by Luke Thomas.

By Rebecca Rosen Lum

Editor’s Note: The demonstration calling on Pacifica to sever its ties with Jackson Lewis takes place from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday April 18 outside KPFA (and adjacent Pacifica  headquarters) at 1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Berkeley.

April 16, 2012

KPFA workers and their supporters will take to the streets Wednesday to protest Pacific Radio Network’s hiring of a law firm the AFL-CIO has dubbed “the devil incarnate” and the “the number one union-buster in America.”

Pacifica Foundation hired Jackson Lewis in 2010, but that is the only point of agreement between the five-station, listener-supported broadcasting network and its KPFA workers group.

Pacifica’s executive director argues that the organization simply plucked the law firm from a list of firms approved by its insurance carrier to handle litigation.

“We deplore ‘union busting’ wherever it occurs—and it will not occur at Pacifica on my watch,” writes Arlene Engelhardt in a March 30 guest commentary that appeared on RadioSurvivor.com. “Jackson Lewis was first hired in 2010 to handle only litigation and is not involved in union relations at Pacifica at all.”

She said Pacifica hired the firm only after previous attorneys bungled employee lawsuits, and that Jackson Lewis saved money by working at reduced rates and pressing for early settlements.

“Terminating Jackson Lewis would be reckless and expensive,” she writes in her missive, adding that station supporters have deliberately misrepresented the actions and the intents of the national board “to whip up a frenzy.”

“I don’t care…what they were hired to do,”  shot back KPFA board member Conn Hallinan. “The idea that we would give our members’ money to fuel an anti-democratic, anti-worker, anti-progressive organization like this is just beyond belief.”

KPFA station chair Margy Wilkinson said the foundation’s retainer contract signed in January with Jackson Lewis includes labor issues.

“It just leaves me breathless that they would hire (Jackson Lewis),” she said.

Jackson Lewis, which employs 400 attorneys in 25 cities, is among the “top five or so best known firms” specializing in union avoidance, said John Logan, Director of Labor and Employment Studies at the San Francisco State University College of Business.

“Given the current labor dispute between Pacifica and its workforce, it is understandable that employees and others are concerned that the company has hired this particular firm,” he said in an email message.

Logan’s 2008 study of U.S. anti-union consultants quotes this bit of advice from Jackson Lewis attorneys: “If you want to keep the union out of your place, you’ve got to work at it day and night … weed ‘em out.” The company spends tens of thousands to several million dollars on anti-union campaigns. Its website lists a “2012 Union-Free Educational Program.”

“The firm has been involved in several campaigns involving allegations of egregious unfair management practices and campaigns in which employers have spent significant amounts of public money on anti-union activities,” the study says.

Engaging a firm with Jackson Lewis’ record could torpedo the station’s already tenuous relationship with its unionized staff and alienate listeners who do not want their donations going to a firm that has positioned itself against organized labor, says a letter from KPFA workers to the Pacifica National Board.

More than 1700 people around the country have signed an online petition demanding that Pacifica immediately sever its relationship with Jackson Lewis.

The current labor troubles at KPFA, Pacifica’s founding station, stretch back more than a year, when station managers fired the staff of the popular KPFA Morning Show, violating seniority provisions of the union contract. Managers claim the move was a cost-saving measure, but afterward, morning listenership plummeted and donations to the station dropped off dramatically.

In fact, troubles with its parent organization have wracked the station for years. In a tense standoff more than a decade ago, Pacifica management hired anti-union consultants, installed armed guards and locked out staffers. The station went dark, with taped music replacing programming.

While its immediate goal is junking the Jackson Lewis contract, in the long term, what the station wants is autonomy, Wilkinson said. Pacifica’s insistence on making decisions hamstrings the station’s ability to meet the needs of its listeners, she said.

“It’s been a problem for a long time,” she said. “The executive director comes in and makes changes in the kinds of things local stations should have control over.

“It seems to me that all five (Pacifica) stations can work together on certain things, like the presidential election, but other than that, we have very different communities, and we each have to respond to the needs of our communities.”

For instance, the foundation rejected a proposed budget that averted layoffs without explanation, Wilkinson said. And it has dragged its feet on selecting a general manager out of a pool of candidates submitted by the local station, which the by-laws require, she said.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a veteran journalist who covers faith, culture and social issues. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for her coverage of Richmond, Calif. at the Contra Costa Times. Her series on the financial abuse of elders resulted in changes to California state law, and her reporting on conditions at residential hotels led to criminal charges and the closure of a facility. She is currently at work on a foundation-funded series on the impacts of incarceration on communities and the promises of realignment, a California state program that moves low-level offenders from state prisons to county jails.Her many awards include top honors from the California Teachers Association, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, and the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

She also chairs the Pacific Media Workers Guild’s pioneering freelance unit. Under her leadership, the unit obtained dental and vision benefits, and introduced the Fair Freelance Seal, a commitment to decent pay and working conditions carried by a growing number of publications. She is working with independent journalists to launch new freelance units in Oregon, Washington and Colorado.

She has taught English and civics to newcomers in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and serves as scholarship chair for the East Bay Press Club.

More Posts

  • Eric Brooks

    To once again chime in with a little reality…

    This issue is completely deceptive nonsense being drummed up by a clique of union workers who usurped a previous union at KPFA so that they could disenfranchise non-paid staff at the station (80% of the workers) from labor protections that they were previously granted, and from making decisions about the station and its programming. This clique also managed to get rid of the community program council in order to entrench decision making on programming to only themselves the paid staff (no community or non paid volunteer decision makers).

    This faction, deceptively calling itself ‘Save KPFA’ (stealing the name of a previous group that really -did- save KPFA from a hostile takeover by a truly bad Pacifica board in the 90s) is also trying to eject from the KPFA Local Station Board, long time media justice organizer and Media Alliance leader Tracy Rosenberg in order to gain majority voting power on the LSB so that it can dominate the station.

    To get a sense of the real story about what’s going on at KPFA go to: http://www.stopthekpfarecall.org/?p=476

    And to see a damning report about how that small clique of workers pointing fingers about law firms previously launched its own cynical lawsuit against Pacifica, hiring none other than Harmeet Dhillon, local Republican powerhouse, Bush/Cheney co-campaign chair, and Sarah Palin supporter, to attack Pacifica in the courts, go to: http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2011/05/kpfas-republican-activist.html

  • Thank you, Fog City Journal, for continuing to cover this story. Listeners across the Bay Area, and the nation, are concerned about the sharp decline of our radio network under Pacifica’s current board and management.

    Take a look at http://www.KPFAWorker.org and http://www.SaveKPFA.org to learn more, and sign up for regular updates.

    While at either site, take a listen to what some Pacifica’s national board members said about communications from KPFA listeners this week — apparently, our emails and calls are having an effect.

    Let’s keep it up and we hope to see you at Wednesday’s picket!

  • Daniel Borgström

    Some articles from the past 2 or 3 years, background on what’s going on at KPFA/Pacifica:

    The Grover Norquist Solution at KPFA
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2011/01/grover-norquist-solution-at-kpfa.html

    What is at stake at KPFA
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2010/11/what-is-at-stake-at-kpfa.html

    The Best & the Brightest, at KPFA
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2010/12/best-brightest-at-kpfa.html

    Why are CWA and the “left” trying to take down KPFA?
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-are-cwa-and-left-trying-to-take_23.html

    Stealing the name “Save KPFA” from an earlier group
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2010/08/stealing-save-kpfa.html

    KPFA’s Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust
    http://danielborgstrom.blogspot.com/2010/12/kpfas-working-majority-gets-screwed-by.html

  • What Eric said, what Daniel said, what Real KPFA Worker said.

    There is no union busting going on at KPFA.

  • Pacifica’s decision to go with the most qualified counsel greatly pleases SaveKPFA. We look forward to exciting action between the CWA and Jackson Lewis. May the better team win.

  • I’ll tell you what leaves me “breathless,” to quote Margy Wilkerson. What I used to find “beyond belief,” to quote Conn Hallinan. Warmongering on KPFA, and I hear it all the time.

    For just one example: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/01/05/18668391.php?show_comments=1#18669606

    For another:
    http://fsrn.org/audio/rwanda-village-brings-together-hutus-and-tutsis-path-toward-reconciliation/7520

    Anyone who believes that John Prendergast is a human rights activist, that Rwandan Hutus and Tutsis are on the path toward reconciliation, that the U.S. was a “bystander to genocide” in Rwanda, or more recently, that George Clooney was arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy to stop genocide and mass atrocities, as was recently reported on the KPFA Weekday News, has swallowed a buttload of military propaganda.

    And, anyone pushing these propositions on the air is, consciously or not, working a psychological operation to help the US/NATO swat millions of African people off their resources like so many flies.

  • Willis

    Geez, what a bunch of anti-union jerks on this comment stream. How can people that say they support KPFA and are progressive get behind Jackson Lewis?

    They are completely deluded and vicious, that’s the only explanation. Sad.

  • chard

    If one is a “volunteer,” does that mean taking a union member’s job it isn’t scabbing?

  • Gate

    @borgstrom & allies– checked out the blog: amazing. Not in a good way.

  • Wake up

    It’s sad to see the manipulative headline on this “news” story. The story is actually pretty fairly balanced, but the headline needs “union busting” in quotes or “alleged union busting.”

    What “union busting”? I don’t see any. Two people were laid off at KPFA in December 2010 because the station didn’t have the money to pay them. This was done after all staff were offered voluntary termination packages and 7 or 8 staff took them.

    As a result, KPFA is breaking even after several years of deep red ink and the loss of about $1.5 million.

    So, the layoffs were necessary and prevented the loss of a lot more jobs — which would have happened had the layoffs not occurred and the station had gone bankrupt.

    KPFA is now spending less and raising more. The overall average pledge dollars per hour has gone up since the cancellation of the old Morning Show. These are facts. The writer could have ascertained them by contacting the station management and/or Arlene Engelhardt directly. Instead, the story is written from press releases.

    Why is CWA trying to take down KPFA? That’s the question. If you’re a leftist, that’s a question you should ask. Jackson Lewis has not had anything to do with KPFA and is a red herring.

    But CWA has been at war with KPFA since the layoffs. Why? The layoffs saved jobs.

    There is more diversity of opinion and viewpoints in the morning drive time now than there used to be. New listeners and new money are coming into the station. That’s why both the Oakland and San Francisco Greens voted to oppose the recall of Tracy Rosenberg, and so did the Alameda County and statewide Peace and Freedom Party.

    Could it be that CWA doesn’t want more diversity of opinion to the left of “progressive” Democrats to be heard on KPFA in this election year? Does it go even further? Is CWA trying to cripple the Pacifica network — with five stations in five major cities + 180 community station affiliates across the country — in this election year? That’s what the old Pacifica board we fought to get rid of back in 1999-2001 was all about — keeping Pacifica “safely” in the “progressive Democrat” field with no narratives challenging to Bill Clinton from the left.

    If your “progressive” credentials depend on supporting CWA in taking down KPFA & Pacifica, then I would say that’s pretty deluded.

  • Ellen

    Scabbing is undercutting the solidarity of a group of workers. So yes, in the broad sense, scabs can be “volunteers” or waged employees.

    But the unpaid-paid division not the main split at KPFA. It’s between those with principles and solidarity, and those who will grab the airtime offered to them without a thought for their coworkers. Both groups contain paid workers and unpaid staffers. The ones with principles are the majority by far in the station.

    That means some who portray themselves as “progressive” and “pro-union” are actually the ones in bed with Pacifica management. Since the information about Jackson Lewis has come to light, it is interesting to see them try to justify the hire. If you wonder who those are, just look at Tracy Rosenberg’s supporters. They are the same people who’ve profited from management’s decimation of programming, from throwing Aimee Allison and Brian Edwards-Tiekert and David Bacon off the air. Many have been on a crusade against CWA for years, making up stories that have no basis in reality.

    Scabs? Yes, I would say so.

    But even though Pacifica management has consciously played off those who desperately want airtime (whether they are ready for it or not) against other workers, it hasn’t worked. The vast majority of both paid and unpaid staff are disgusted at what management is doing, and will not “scab” by cooperating with management.

    Come support them on Wednesday!

    • I believe that the KPFA Local Station Board voted unanimously, at the last Board meeting, to urge Pacifica to stop using Jackson Lewis.  

  • Wake up

    KPFA had too many paid programmers — that only works if you go to corporate underwriting for programming.

    Listener-sponsored radio will only support so many paid staff. When you go beyond that, you go bankrupt and/or are forced to underwriting.

    That’s why staff were laid off. And that’s why KPFA is successfully returning to more unpaid programming.

  • KPFA listener-subscribers are not capital trying to squeeze surplus value out of workers.

  • bill m

    “Wake up” has it all wrong. There are very few paid programmers at KPFA. They existing only in a few key programs – but they are a net gain, bringing in the bulk of the station’s funding. They make it possible for shows with fewer listeners to stay on the air. They make KPFA viable as an institution.

    Point in fact: the Morning Show had a staff that included both paid and unpaid programmers and was so excellent it brought in 3 times what it cost to produce. Just read the facts:

    http://www.savekpfa.org/facts-about-the-kpfa-situation/kpfa-financial-facts

    And about corporate underwriting – that’s what you’ll end up with if you lay off all the independent paid journalists! KPFA’s interim manager and Pacifica’s ED have already said they’re interested in that model — underwriting instead of listener sponsorship. They are putting the station in a position where that will be the only viable path to keep the station afloat, since they’ve decimated the best programming KPFA had.

    Now they’ll say they have to go get “grants” so their friends and allies can be funded. That gives them more control over what is on the air, but would deprive KPFA’s listeners of its cutting edge independent journalism.

    That’s not what Lew Hill and other KPFA founders intended.

  • Sigh. Once again only three of us here are willing to identify ourselves by name. Eric Brooks, Daniel Borgström, and myself.

    Since the attempt to recall Tracy Rosenberg from the Local Station Board and thus the Pacifica National Board is the next decision that KPFA’s listener-subscribers will have the chance to make, I’d just like to encourage any of you who subscribe and vote, to study the arguments for and against the recall and make up your own mind:

    In favor of the recall: http://www.savekpfa.org/faqrecall

    In opposition: http://www.stopthekpfarecall.org/

    I’m voting NO, and not afraid to say so and sign my own name. I wish that no one else were afraid to sign their name to their thoughts here on FCJ either.

    And yes, Pacifica is “a corporation” as the savekpfa.org site says. It’s a non-profit corporation.

  • Wake up

    bill m … That is what Lynn Chadwick & the “Healthy Stations Project” said to community radio stations across the country. It’s true only up to a point. Some listeners like hearing the same voice at the same time every day. Others don’t. And there is a saturation point.

    An interesting thing happened after the old Morning Show was cancelled. KPFA did not lose donations. The money raised by the old Morning Show was redistributed to the other daily programs. So the same money came in with two hours less of paid programmers.

    The new Morning Mix program brought in new listeners and new donors. And the overall average pledges/hour for the station actually increased in the year after the change.

    KPFA is raising more money with lowered staff costs, and bringing in new audiences.

    This is the way out of the downward spiral that nearly bankrupted the station — which had lost 28% of its donor income between 2005-2010 BEFORE the Morning Show was cancelled.

  • Ellen

    No, it hasn’t “brought in new donors” — station membership is down, way down. And arbitrons, with all their acknowledged problems, show KPFA trailing badly behind its traditional rivals.

    The money that went “to other daily programs” was because listeners were pissed at Pacifica’s destructive behavior and they threw their dollars behinds those programs that stood in resistance — Letters & Politics, Against the Grain, and the News. Those listeners are now getting really tired of the continuing shenanigans. Many will NOT give because of Pacifica’s incredibly stupid mistake in hiring the nation’s top union-busting legal firm.

    You don’t constantly ignore and torture your audience in public broadcasting and still expect them to fund your terrible radio programs. Do you? I guess you do if you have no understanding or experience in how radio works.

    And Ann, please get off your high horse. I am posting under my own name and so are some other people. You don’t have a monopoly on honor.

    • @Ellen, would you mind sharing your last name as well?  

    • Ellen, I don’t believe we’ve ever met, so I don’t know you simply by your first name.  Would you mind including your last as well?

  • Wake up

    Ellen — Facts:

    21% of the donations in February were new donors.

    Overall average donations/hour during pledge drives was up 7.2% for the first year of the Morning Mix – Jan-Dec 2011 – over the last year of the old Morning Show – Nov-2009-Oct 2010. All programs were up, including programs that do NOT support the union shenanigans.

    Go figure.

    One person’s torture is another person’s interesting and stimulating. I thought the old Morning Show was boring and light weight. Tastes differ.

    Your theory of radio may be 15-20 years out of date.

  • KPFA unpaid staffer

    “Wake up” (or should I say Tracy) apparently hasn’t been listening to local board meetings, where even the interim general manager admitted KPFA’s paying membership has fallen from 22,000 to about 20,000 over the past 1-1.5 years.

    You can look at any fund drive in the last year and they all pretty much look like this: http://www.savekpfa.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/kpfawinterfunddrive.jpg

    That is, massive losses in morning drive time, and under-performing during a part of the evening drive time. Most of the rest of KPFA’s programming — some of it brilliant — has a much lower listenership and doesn’t affect the bottom line much.