Pacifica Lays Off KPFA Union Activist John Hamilton

KPFA news anchor and producer John Hamilton, who had just returned from reporting on the historic labor protests in Wisconsin, was given a layoff notice on Monday by KPFA’s interim program director Carrie Core. Hamilton was told his last work day would be March 30. When asked who made the decision, Core admitted that it was Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt.

Hamilton has been a prominent union activist at KPFA, speaking out against the actions of Pacifica management at meetings of KPFA’s Local Station Board and the Berkeley City Council, and producing a video of a labor/community protest. He also filmed Engelhardt last autumn as she stormed off in a huff after listeners asked her to disclose her salary, and put the video up on the web — something Engelhardt later chastised Hamilton for. Engelhardt let her displeasure in his media activism be known. Hamilton was named on an infamous “purge list” of dissident staff whom members of the Pacifica National Board wanted dismissed. Also named were Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison, who were laid off in violation of KPFA’s union contract with CWA Local 9415.

Core claims that the layoff is financially necessary, but she could not answer how much the station would save by laying off Hamilton, or how KPFA would make up the shortfall that would come from letting go of one of the station’s most effective fundraisers. Hamilton is employed part-time and makes only about $25,000 a year. Facing an arbitration loss, Pacifica reinstated former Morning Show co-host Brian Edwards-Tiekert in a paid job last week.

Pacifica oversells financial problems to justify laying off workers

KPFA’s board treasurer recently revealed that in the first quarter of KPFA’s fiscal year, the station was outperforming its budget by $290,000. In addition, listeners have raised $63,000 in pledges for Pacifica to restore the KPFA Morning Show to the air — enough to restore both paid Morning Show co-hosts to the air for the rest of the year, along with the unpaid segment producers who are out in solidarity with them — but management has so far refused to do so. The replacement programming is raising far less in pledges than before.

In addition to these first quarter results, KPFA’s union put forward $250,000 worth of savings proposals, which were fully endorsed by KPFA’s local management and local board. Those proposals contain more than enough to prevent Hamilton’s layoff as well as reverse Aimee Allison’s. “At at station with a $3.5 million dollar budget,” said one staffer, “we ought to easily be able to find enough savings to preserve a few part-time staffer’s jobs, especially when those staff contribute immensely to the quality of KPFA’s programming and its ability to fundraise.”

When asked about how the news department would function without an anchor, Core said that she and Engelhardt planned to “restructure” the newscast. The Evening News is the most listened-to program of the afternoon and evening on KPFA and was the biggest fundraiser during KPFA’s last marathon. Pacifica previously yanked off the air the popular Morning Show, sending fundraising in the 8am hour into a tailspin. Now it appears set to destroy the Evening News.

We ask that you take a few minutes to contact Engelhardt and Core and let them know you oppose retaliatory layoffs against union activists at KPFA. Urge them to sit down and negotiate with the union over budget proposals already on the table that would support KPFA and its hard-working staff.