Throughout its 63-year history, Pacifica has been known for its progressive approach to journalism, including its coverage of workers’ rights issues. But last year managers of the nonprofit network, led by Rosenberg and Pacifica’s executive director, Arlene Engelhardt, targeted outspoken KPFA workers for layoff, using the guise of a budget crisis and violating the union contract of the staff, who are represented by CWA Local 9415.
KPFAWorker.org is an editorial collective of paid and unpaid staff who are working collaboratively to support the station's union, and who want to see the labor rights of all workers at KPFA respected and enhanced.
Workers at the Bay Area’s KPFA radio will be marking its 63th birthday this week not with a party, but with a picket. They’ve invited supporters to join them Wednesday, April 18 from noon to 1pm to demand that parent corporation Pacifica Radio “stay true to its principles and reverse the hiring of legal consultants Jackson Lewis, which the AFL-CIO calls the nation’s ‘number one union-buster.’
Lew Hill and other conscientious objectors founded KPFA on April 15, 1949, as the nation’s first progressive, listener-sponsored radio station. Fast forward to 2012: KPFA’s union recently found out that Pacifica had hired notorious union-buster Jackson Lewis on retainer for its 5-station radio network.
KPFA’s parent organization, the Pacifica Foundation, has hired Jackson Lewis, a notorious anti-union law firm which the AFL-CIO calls “America’s number one union-buster.” The multimillion-dollar corporate firm specializes in what it calls ”preventative practices” — that is, advising managers how to obstruct workers from successfully forming unions and undermining existing unions. “Under its polished veneer lies a for-profit union-buster,” writes the nonprofit American Rights at Work, “one of the oldest and largest” such firms in the nation.
Last month, workers around the Pacifica network, including KPFA, deposited their paychecks — and were shocked to have them bounce. KPFA had sufficient funds to cover its payroll, but Pacifica pools the payroll money of its five stations, and did not warn KPFA that whoever deposited their checks last would end up with a bounced check fine.
Stewards from Communications Workers of America Local 9415, which represents KPFA’s union workers, wrote a letter to Pacifica’s Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams reminding them that bouncing paychecks is a crime. (Read entire letter here.)
Two months after KPFA's union discovered that the station's parent corporation Pacifica was illegally raiding the 403b pension funds of its union members for as long as 18 months, the network has finally admitted to workers that “during the past few years employee contributions . . . were not deposited into your accounts on a timely basis.”
The pension contributions come from employees' own earnings. Pacifica had been deducting money from paychecks but not always depositing it in individuals' 403b accounts, a violation of federal law and a form of wage theft.
Union activists everywhere know that the surest way to win a campaign to hit the boss where it hurts — in the pocketbook. But not at noncommercial broadcaster KPFA, where CWA-affiliated workers are involved in a protracted struggle with the management of their corporate parent, Pacifica.
In November 2010, Pacifica, which usually stays out of station programming decisions, took the unusual step of canceling KPFA's “The Morning Show” — the station's most popular locally-produced program, also its biggest fundraiser, and home to KPFA's only regular labor-themed segment.
“Pacifica's already used financial hardship as a pretext for retaliatory layoffs at KPFA,” said program host and union steward Sasha Lilley. “Because of the disastrous changes they made to the station's morning lineup, KPFA is on track to finish its Spring fund drive over $150,000 behind goal. So, as workers, we have to do everything we can to turn that around.”
Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt’s plan to lay off KPFA news anchor John Hamilton was averted at the last minute, thanks to five union workers at the station presented a plan to reduce their hours of work time by 22 hours a week and donate them to Hamilton so that he could stay on at no cost to KPFA except for his benefits. In yet another violation of the union contract, Arlene Engelhardt refused to meet with the union to discuss alternatives to Hamilton’s layoff.
On Monday, April 4, KPFA paid and unpaid staff will picket in front of Pacifica as part of the national day of action to defend unions. The picket will take place from 7:30-8:30 am at 1925 Martin Luther King Jr Way in Berkeley (next door to KPFA). KPFA’s workers are calling on listeners to join them on the picket line Monday morning to send a message to Engelhardt that they don’t support union-busting.