Bringing Peace to KPFA-Pacifica
by Akio Tanaka
As long-time observers know, there never seems to be peace at KPFA-Pacifica.
In 2001 Pacifica Radio had new organizational bylaws which called for democratic governance by the listeners and staff, both paid and unpaid. Immediately, a divide formed between those embracing the new bylaws and those that were wary of them. The current conflict is a continuation of this divide.
It is important to note that KPFA relies on a large number of unpaid staff; 75% of the programming is done by the unpaid staff. At KPFA there simply is not enough money to pay all of those who contribute to the station.
Between 2000 and 2005, KPFA saw large increases in listener support, from $2.2M to $4.0M, and management allowed salaries and benefits to increase from $1.0M to $2.4M, plowing the new revenue into on-going salary expenses and little into equipment or technology upgrades.
Between 2005 and 2010, listener support declined, from $4.0M to $2.9M, but corresponding cuts in salaries and benefits were not made. KPFA was the only station within the Pacifica network not to make any cuts during the economic downturn that began in the fall of 2008.
By the end of fiscal year 2010, KPFA was $587K in the red for the 2nd consecutive year, so the Pacifica National Office stepped in to make the cuts to prevent insolvency. As soon as the cuts were made, the KPFA’s CWA bargaining unit and much of the long-term staff jumped in and made the following allegations:
1. Pacifica was usurping local control and engaged in union busting.
2. The layoffs did not follow union seniority rules.
Even though the NLRB and the union's own arbiters rejected the claims made by the union, many people still believed and supported the allegations. There seem to be two reasons for the confusion:
1. Many labor supporters will always be in solidarity with a union in a dispute with management, right or wrong.
2. Many listeners trust familiar personalities, even though broadcasting is a very different skill than nonprofit management and governance.
The union has portrayed the conflict as a traditional management–labor conflict; but Pacifica finances are very different from traditional corporations.
In fact, the finances of the network and the stations are very simple and straightforward. Revenues come mainly from listener support with the rest from grants like the CPB. Expenses are mainly salaries-benefits with the rest being fixed expenses. Pacifica intervened only to bring salary and benefit expenses in line with the current level of listener support.
The Underlying Problem
In the case of profit making corporations the role of the union is clear - it is to represent the interests of the workers in seeking a fair share of the profits. It is less clear when there are no profits being sought or made. Pacifica, a non-profit organization, says in its mission: “Foundation organized and operated exclusively for educational purpose no part of net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any member of the Foundation”.
One major area of friction is programming. A union looking after the financial security of its bargaining unit members may like to have programming that will appeal to a more affluent, if progressive audience. But many would define the mission of Pacifica to be also a voice of the voiceless.
Another area of friction is the working relationship between the paid and the unpaid staff. Until 1996 both were represented by one union; however, since 1996 unpaid staff has not been represented by a union, so there is always an uneasy working relationship between the paid and the unpaid staff.
These tensions were exacerbated by the 2001 bylaws which gave listeners a voice in the governance of the station.
Democratically run Program Council that includes listeners is also a contentious issue. It is understandable why some paid and unpaid programmers with established shows as well as people who want the station to be the voice of middle and upper-class progressives would be wary of a democratic Program Council.
So what to do with these conflicting needs and interests? How does the union look after the financial security of its members in an organization whose mission basically shun money-making endeavors?
The primary task of the station should be to fulfill the mission of Pacifica. Then management and the union should carefully work out a program staffing level, above the core technical and administrative staff, that can be sustained over the economic up and downs, and avoid the temptation to add people during economic boom times. With a stable staffing level, the paid and unpaid staff can work together to fulfill the mission of Pacifica.
Pacifica holds the unique position of giving a platform to the powerless and voiceless, as did the union movement at one time, and while the notion of workers rights resonates to all within the progressive community it must be remembered that it is to respect and honor ALL labor, not only paid, union labor.
Bringing Peace to KPFA-Pacifica
Current campaign to recall Tracy Rosenberg from the KPFA’s Local Station Board, the main accusation being that she destroyed the ‘Morning Show’, is a continuation of the ongoing divide.
The problem was not caused by the Pacifica National Office, or by Tracy Rosenberg, but was caused by KPFA adding way too many people to the payroll during the boom time of 2000-2005.
As the KPFA Rep to the Pacifica Finance Committee, Tracy saw that KPFA was headed for insolvency in late 2010 and helped alert Pacifica’s national board and management to the danger. What she did do was to help save KPFA and the Pacifica network.
It is time for all the staff, paid and unpaid, and all listeners to embrace the democratic victory that was won for all of us by Carol Spooner and the original SaveKPFA in 1999. KPFA was not sold out from under us, and thanks to Ms. Spooner, it never will be. But it is more than time for Pacifica to really mean “peace”.
AKIO TANAKA is a member of the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB).
June 30, 2012
For more information on the particulars of the recall charges, and their rebuttals, see
Stop the KPFA Recall.org
Also, you can listen to an archived audio of the On-Air Live Debate, broadcast Friday, June 29th, at 1 PM, between Tracy Rosenberg and recall proponent Margy Wilkinson. Click here