False History & Current Myths

about KPFA & Its Union
by Clique Watch

JANUARY 14, 2011

“SaveKPFA”/Concerned Listener apologists for the insider clique at KPFA continue to haul out bucket loads of disinformation and spin in discussing the history and current state of the station and its union.

In criticizing Isis Feral’s “KPFA's Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust,”
an insider clique apologist commented:

>>“Don't you remember your basic Pacifica history? Pacifica management ‘busted’ the UE in the 90s by bringing a case to the NLRB to get the unpaid staff removed from the bargaining unit. They won. Unfortunately, the result of that legal decision was that unpaid staff no longer have any collective bargaining rights. It's been that way for over a decade.”

Pacifica management in 2010-11 is not the same as Pacifica management in the 90s, and this is not 1999. The Pat Scott/Mary Frances Berry regimes of the 90s were intent on NPRizing Pacifica and acted without regard for the concerns of local constituencies. By contrast, Arlene Engelhardt and LaVarn Williams have intervened at the last possible minute to save KPFA from bankruptcy after CL-dominated KPFA management did nothing for 3 years to deal with the economics of declining revenues.

As for the NLRB decision, the commenter conveniently leaves out the fact that KPFA paid staff were, with a few exceptions, willing to abandon unpaid staff’s collective bargaining rights even before the NLRB decision came down in 1999. WBAI switched to AFTRA only after unpaid staff had already been removed from the collective bargaining unit. KPFA’s move to CWA was made two years earlier, before such a move was necessary. That says a lot about the kind of top-down union culture that exists at KPFA.

>>“CWA is one of the most democratic unions in the labor movement, and represents many media workers across the nation.”

I guess that at KPFA, “democratic” and “many” translates to 20%, the other 80% consisting of staff without a grievance procedure, benefits or training.

>>“And far from ‘dismantling community oversight,’ SaveKPFA is a broad coalition rooted in the community. Thousands of its supporters have written, demonstrated, and pledged their backing for change at Pacifica, and voiced their outrage at what the current Pacifica administration, embodied by executive director Arlene Engelhardt, is doing to the station.”

Those listeners who have protested the layoffs have done so because they are being disinformed by an incessant, slick, and well-organized PR machine. But people may be starting to catch on. The first “SaveKPFA” mass rally on Nov 4 drew 150 supporters, the 2nd rally on Nov 19 brought out about 50, and exactly 17 attended the third rally on Dec 3. That doesn't sound like massive support to me.

>>“...click on ‘FACTS ON KPFA'S CRISIS’...”

In fact, the “SaveKPFA” and kpfaworker websites are full of disinformation and lies attacking Pacifica (the only remaining national progressive media outlet in the US let’s remember) while serving the narrow interests of the small insider clique at KPFA who run the websites. For those who prefer to rely on true facts in trying to understand what’s going on, check out United for Community Radio.

“SaveKPFA”/CL avoids public discussion, debate, or dialogue like vampires shrink from sunlight.

>>“‘[Isis Feral] states, ‘Many people now refer to the managing faction of the still unionized workers as the “entrenched staff”, and some call the CWA a “scab union”. From the start the CWA played the divisive role of an elitist private club, rather than that of a union.’ Nope, 'afraid not. The only people who use these kinds of nasty, union-busting terms are this author and a few friends who are pissed the lost a majority on KPFA's board.”

It’s true that some of us are disturbed and saddened that people we thought were progressive and principled could resort to such underhanded tactics to ensure they got a factional majority on the board (see Local and National Election Supervisors’ reports for descriptions of “SaveKPFA”’s many 2010 election violations). We fought hard in 1999 to democratize the station, and it is awful to see a small handful of people putting so much energy into trying to destroy the station’s moves toward a democratic, transparent and accountable governance structure. If freed from an environment of attack and obstruction and given a chance to flourish, democratic governance could bring the station closer to the communities it serves and return it to a state of vibrancy and health.

>>“Managers are not part of the [bargaining] unit.”

That really misses the point; CWA Local 9415 works hand in glove with managers and other allies outside the bargaining unit to achieve their ends (see Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s infamous “how do we make our enemies own the problems that are to come ” memo from 2005). What kind of union strategizes with non-union members? A management union.

>>“‘Unpaid staff represented by the UE were entitled to such benefits as travel expenses and childcare.’ Yes, before Pacifica took its case to the NLRB and busted the UE, that was true. However, did you know the childcare reimbursement was only about 10 cents an hour? Wow, hate to lose that benefit! The travel reimbursement still applies; any unpaid staffer can get it.”

It’s telling that the author of the paragraph above makes light of what was lost by unpaid staff, who have no grievance procedure and must rely on the largesse of politicized management to receive training or access to other means of advancement within the station.

The fact is that entrenched gatekeeper culture at KPFA doesn't support worker rights or even labor programming. The station used to run a mere 20 minutes on labor out of the 168-hour week. Now, preferring to score political points by "boycotting" the new morning show over a trumped up union issue, the gatekeepers have ironically taken even this minuscule bit of labor programming away.

>>“As far as UPSO being ‘the closest thing to a union for volunteering workers,’ well maybe, theoretically, if it actually had participation from a broad range of unpaid staff. It doesn't. UPSO's leadership has been so poor they could not even run a proper election for years. Three or four people making decisions in the name of 150 unpaid staffers isn't acceptable, which is why management de-recognized it at one point.”

Station management never liked the idea of an organized unpaid staff and did whatever it could to disable it, including obstructing and delegitimizing UPSO, just as it did with the Program Council and as management tends to do with un-unionized workers everywhere. In this case, though, the union is joined at the hip with management and is all about protecting its own and, more particularly, the preferred within its own. As essentially a management union, CWA Local 9415’s interest is to defend its power base in KPFA's unionized decision-makers, first making it impossible for UPSO to function and then having a management shill claim there’s no interest among unpaid staff to organize for bargaining rights.

And let’s bring some perspective: Hundreds of AT&T workers have been laid off in the Bay Area in the past few years, and Local 9415 has shrunk from 6000 to about 1800 in the last decade. Yet we have all this noise about two people laid off in accordance with the union contract?

>>“There is no union contract for unpaid staff, and there hasn't been for over a decade. Pacifica ensured that when it engaged in union busting in the 1990s and took its case to toss the unpaid staff out of its bargaining units and won at the NLRB. CWA asked at the bargaining table to have unpaid rights included; management refused. CWA also held a series of meetings unpaid staff and welcomed them to organize back in the 90s. Unpaid staff decided the interest was not there.”

People there at the time (see Maria Gilardin’s “Why Did the Staff not Prevent the 10-Year Corporate Raid?") refute this. Back in the late 90s, workers at WBAI under UE fought to retain union representation even as KPFA’s paid staff (again, with some exceptions) hung unpaid staff out to dry by moving to CWA without a fight. There were ongoing attempts to persuade KPFA paid staff (many of the same people who bogusly yell about “union busting” and “scabs” today) to remain in solidarity with WBAI’s struggle but to no avail.

>>“The ‘deep division within KPFA’ this author dreams up doesn't exist...The ‘deep division at KPFA’ has nothing to do with the union, it has to do with ignorant outsiders like this writer tossing around ridiculous accusations and rhetoric for their own political purposes, with no knowledge of the KPFA situation or its history.”

How nice that someone can speak for all of KPFA’s workers in assuring us that there’s no division within the station. If this person had been at the 11/11 rally in front of KPFA, organized by unpaid staff, he or she would have seen a large, loud, impassioned refutation of that notion. There’s a clear system of patronage operating in which some are rewarded, some punished, and some are left alone as long as they never object to the existing station power structure in which decisions are made with no process or transparency and benefits are bestowed and punishments meted out politically. And how typical of someone speaking from an elite position of power within KPFA to dismiss someone as an “ignorant outsider.” It’s all about “community” until someone from the community calls them on their shit.

>>“As far as being ‘entrenched’ -- what a loaded term -- there are tons of unpaid staff who have been at KPFA for decades. Aren't they ‘entrenched’? How come Dennis Bernstein -- rather ‘entrenched’ no matter how you define it -- is never accused of such by his admirers?”

“Entrenched” doesn’t refer to how long people have been working at the station so much as the degree of power they have and use to further their agendas and defend their territory. Sasha Lilley (former Interim Program Director and many would say de facto GM during Lemlem Rijio’s tenure), Mark Mericle (head of the news dept and also vice president of the CWA local), Philip Maldari (union steward), Brian Edwards-Tiekert all hold large amounts of power behind the scenes with which they reward friends (e.g., Mitch Jeserich) and penalize enemies (e.g., Dennis Bernstein, Nora Barrows Friedman, those unpaid staff members who have been working at KPFA for years while being denied opportunities for training or paid positions). The entrenched are also good at installing figurehead GMs such as Lemlem and vilifying GMs who aren’t willing to get with the program and do what they’re told (e.g., Roy Campanella Jr).

That the new GM, Amit Pendyal, has gone through the proper bylaws-mandated hiring process and is on the job brings cause for hope and optimism. I very much hope that KPFA’s entrenched staff will stop trying to undermine any GM unwilling to do their bidding. At a time when the station and the network are on the brink, it would be great if they would work with the new GM as he tries to get the station back on track.

JANUARY 14, 2011

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KPFA's Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust by Isis Feral

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10 Years of KPFA Finances in TABLE FORMAT

and, presented as a GRAPH, the same data:
10 Years of KPFA Finances GRAPH

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for updates, reports & essays on KPFA/Pacifica,
please visit these websites:





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KPFA 94.1 FM is one of five stations of the Pacifica radio network which are located in major cities across the country. The other stations are WBAI 99.5 in New York, WPFW 89.3 in Washington DC, KPFT 90.1 in Houston, and KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles. There are also about 160 affiliate stations.


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