Berkeley-based KPFA Radio (94.1 FM), part of the five-station Pacifica network, is no stranger to controversy. But recent actions by its national management have thrown the station into its worst crisis in over a decade, bringing charges of financial mismanagement, political favoritism and union-busting.
Hundreds of listeners, paid staff, and unpaid programmers gathered last fall in a spirited rally to support the staff. Enthusiastically supported by tens of thousands of listener-sponsors, KPFA is the place to go for progressive political analysis and news coverage, as well as cutting-edge music and radio drama. KPFA’s Morning Show was a Bay Area institution, delivering up two hours of thoughtful discussion and news coverage on local, national and international issues, and including a regular weekly half-hour segment on labor.
So KPFA listeners and staff were shocked when Pacifica management suddenly laid off the Morning Show’s on-air unionized staff in early November, in violation of seniority rules under the station’s contract with Communications Workers of America Local 9415. The union has filed several grievances and an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
The programming cuts also displaced several long-time unpaid contributors to the Morning Show, including veteran labor journalist David Bacon, who has written about the KPFA crisis in Labor Notes and declared his solidarity with the laid-off staff, as have many other unpaid programmers at the station.
Three Bay Area labor councils have passed unanimous resolutions supporting the staff. Thousands of listeners have written in protest, as have San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Berkeley’s Labor Commission, and numerous Northern California elected officials. In response listener and staff demands that Pacifica stop stonewalling and come to the table, the Berkeley City Council unanimously supported a union-backed resolution calling for mediation.
Last fall, union staff had drawn up a “sustainable budget” that cut bureaucracy while preserving valuable programming. It won the backing of station managers and KPFA’s local board, but was overruled by Pacifica’s executive director.
Pacifica management has refused mediation (including an offer of assistance from Berkeley’s mayor), and claims the Morning Show’s removal was due solely to financial difficulties. But many observers believe Pacifica is using a budget shortfall as an excuse to purge whistleblowers, hand out rewards to political supporters, and undermine the union. Management hand-picked an all-volunteer crew to replace the laid-off workers, a majority of whom are affiliated with a group that defends Pacifica management.
As the station’s highest fundraiser, the Morning Show brought in three times what it cost to produce, and its removal has already had major costs in listener goodwill and donations, as well as a sharp drop in audience share during the critical morning “drive time” listening hours. A coalition of listeners and staff, SaveKPFA, launched an off-air pledge drive and have collected over $60,000 in commitments to date – enough to rehire the 2 part-time paid hosts for most of the coming year. Pacifica management has so far ignored the pledges and refused to meet with listeners.
Union and community supporters of KPFA are continuing their fight. At a stand-room-only breakfast gathering on February 12, they delivered a giant check representing over $60,000 in pledges to management, and have launched a “call the boss” campaign to get Pacifica’s executive director Arlene Engelhardt to accept the offer, rehire the Morning Show workers, and return local control of programming to KPFA. Please take a moment to lend your voice by emailing Engelhardt here or calling her directly at 510-402-9880..