Historical Analysis: KPFA’s Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust

by Isis Feral

I was raised by several generations of labor organizers, and in every labor dispute my side is easily chosen. I don’t cross picket lines, and I always stand with the workers against their bosses. The current conflict inside KPFA is the first time I’ve ever seen my community divided on an issue concerning labor solidarity.

While labor struggles are usually strictly polarized, it is important to keep in mind that KPFA is a nonprofit community radio station, where the traditional class lines are much harder to draw. In theory the community is in charge of the station, or at least it should be.  It’s the community who pays the bills, and who this station claims to serve.

Community radio is supposed to be by and for the community, more like a movement than a business. The majority of KPFA workers are community members, who donate their labor for free. As some tasks require consistent, daily attention, a limited number of workers must be paid for their time, because volunteering the necessary hours would interfere with their ability to make a living. The line between workers and management is blurry, to say the least. To complicate matters, several unionized workers recently held management positions, or effectively behave like managers.
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For some time now a group among the paid workers and their allies on the Local Station Board (LSB) have largely held control over the management of the station. With the capitalist economic crisis crippling our communities, the station’s income has understandably been less. When budget cuts had to be made, they were agreed to by this group, but were never implemented. This happened two years in a row. With each new budget, the cuts were deeper, because the previous cuts were never made. Now the necessary cuts are deeper still, because KPFA funds were massively mismanaged: More money was spent than was coming in, including a million dollars the station had in reserve. The height of incompetence was achieved when a six figure check intended to earn interest sat in their general manager’s desk for a year instead of being deposited, apparently unnoticed even by their treasurer. Recent payroll funds had to be borrowed from another station. The station is broke and we’re at risk of losing it altogether.

On the LSB this managing group was represented by the slate calling itself Concerned Listeners. Right before the last elections this slate renamed itself Save KPFA, in what appeared to be an effort to confuse and solicit the support of voters who remember the original Save KPFA, which had the polar opposite intent of this group: The original organization officially formed in order to defend community control of the radio station in the 1990′s. This new group, on the other hand, has actively attempted to dismantle community oversight, and to defer control to a small percentage of KPFA staff, who call themselves KPFA Worker. The appropriation of another organization’s name, and attempt to benefit from its history, was just one of several unfair campaign practices this group has been involved in over the years. Among other things, they repeatedly used the airwaves to gain support for their slate, without giving the other candidates fair access to do the same.

The new Save KPFA is representing the issue as a labor dispute, and is claiming that the union of the paid workers is getting busted. Let me be clear: There is currently NO union busting going on at KPFA. Because of the deficit, and a refusal to actually implement budgets these people had agreed to, the axe that is falling now is impacting some of their own people, not just the jobs of others that they themselves have threatened to eliminate, or eliminated already. These cuts are being represented as going by a “hit list” against progressive programmers, but actually they are being made by seniority, and follow the guidelines of their own union contract, unlike the cuts they have advocated themselves. It’s terrible to see people losing their jobs, but this is not union busting by any stretch of the imagination.

UEThe real union busting that happened at KPFA was in the 1990′s, when the Pacifica National Board, which was at the time undemocratically appointed, hired professional union busters, the American Consulting Group. They busted the independent, progressive United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), which represented all KPFA workers, both paid and unpaid. Local 9415 of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) swooped in like a vulture, and became an exclusive job trust for the paid staff. 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. To this date unpaid workers, who currently make up about 80% of KPFA’s workforce, are barred from membership. Many of them have been donating their labor to KPFA for many years. Without them the station and community radio cannot exist.

Unpaid staff represented by the UE were entitled to such benefits as travel expenses and childcare. The latter is particularly relevant in considering what happened to Nadra Foster in 2008, when she was accused of misappropriating KPFA resources, after printing out a few sheets of math homework to keep her children engaged while she was working. This accusation lead to her getting banned from the station, charged with trespassing, and beaten and injured by the cops, who were called by management without any interference from the entrenched staff. Even in the aftermath their names are conspicuously absent among those of 74 of their fellow workers, who condemned management’s use of police force, and expressed solidarity with Nadra.

The year prior, right before the 2007 LSB elections, the Unpaid Staff Organization (UPSO), which is the closest thing to a union for volunteering workers at KPFA, was decertified (a friendly name for union busting) by station management supported by these Concerned Listeners. This move eliminated the rights of many of the unpaid staff to participate in the elections. In 2005 a leaked email among members of the entrenched staff and their supporters, the suggestion was made that perhaps the LSB should be dismantled altogether. Under their management the Program Council, previously in charge of deciding programming, has also been effectively stripped of its power. Does this sound like community control?

As a child of the labor movement, I am appalled to see people, who are behaving as management at the station, opportunistically exploiting their on-paper union membership to solicit the support of the labor movement and the left, while they are refusing to comply with the very union contract, that was negotiated on the backs of their sacrificed fellow workers. I believe that the fake Save KPFA (on Indybay someone refers to them as “Slave KPFA”) and the KPFA Worker group are misrepresenting this as a labor dispute in an attempt to politically legitimize their turf war. What they are teaching listeners about community building and organizing labor are disastrous lessons to be aired on a supposedly progressive radio station, and represents a grave disservice to the community at large, and the labor movement in particular.

The recent “informational picket” was another example of this group merely posturing as organized labor. Using the word “picket” to describe a protest, which does not have the explicit intent to blockade, teaches people that real picket lines are negotiable, that it’s okay to cross them. Historically picket lines are not merely gatherings where we exercise free speech. They are a very specific form of direct action. Picket lines mean don’t cross! It’s not a matter of semantics. Picket lines are THE militant direct action tradition of the labor movement. Of course, this point is likely lost on KPFA’s current union staff, since their right to strike was bargained away for higher pay by the CWA, as they betrayed their fellow workers of the UE.

The Pacifica management of the 1990′s recognized that the UE represented not just workers, but that the workers in turn represent our communities. Replacing the UE with the CWA created a deep division within KPFA, and paved the way for what we are witnessing today. The current crisis is part of a long history of attempts to undermine community control at the station, and to turn it into just another main stream professional media outlet. But one doesn’t have to be a professional to understand what generations of working class people have taken for granted as basic common decency: Any labor organization that does not represent all workers has no business calling itself a union.

Union corruption has become a stereotype used by conservatives to rally working people against unionizing. What they conveniently leave out is that unions belong to workers, not to paid union bureaucrats who corrupt the union’s integrity, as well as their own, as they negotiate compromises with the boss. When there is such corruption, it’s the responsibility of the rank and file to reclaim the union as the tool for which it was intended. A union’s primary purpose is to unite workers. The CWA must be held accountable, not be rewarded with community solidarity, for its divisive role at KPFA. If the union continues to refuse membership and the right to collective bargaining to the majority of KPFA workers, unpaid workers owe it to themselves and their communities, to organize union representation for themselves elsewhere. I urge the KPFA community at large, including those paid workers who still remember what solidarity really means, to encourage and actively aid such efforts.


Note: The author is an autonomous activist, who is not affiliated with, nor endorses, any of the LSB election slates, nor any other organization, but writes strictly from her own conscience. The embedded links in this text are not exhaustive evidence to support my views, but merely a small selection of additional information I found personally helpful in illustrating my position. I encourage all to do your own research and fact-checking and reach your own conclusions.

November 17, 2012


© 2012 Support KPFA Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha

Hands off Frank: Open letter to the KPFA Local Station Board

To the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB):

I am appalled by Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Mal Burnstein’s insults to KPFA Apprenticeship Co-Director and LSB staff representative Frank Sterling during the board’s last meeting.


Frank Sterling, right, on the air with the KPFA Apprentices’ “Full Circle” radio hour.

Frank is the heart and soul of KPFA at this moment in time. Not only because he is trying to lead the station, kicking and screaming, into the new Web-based media universe, but also because he donates so many hours to the Apprenticeship Program and engages with the KPFA community that is trying, against all odds, to stand up to perpetual war, climate catastrophe, and plutocracy’s fierce determination to own and control every last dollar and resource on the planet.

These “leave it all to the professional manager” and “the board is just there to fundraise” mantras are equally huge insults to KPFA’s listener community. Continue reading

KPFA, the PNB and “Local Control”

by Ann Garrison

 I can’t always respond to developments within the Pacifica Radio Network at the time they occur, so this is a look back at one of this year’s most noteworthy Pacifica National Board (PNB) votes. On 02/12/2015, the PNB voted to give the Pacifica Foundation CFO authority over the business managers at all five Pacifica stations.

This has remained on my mind because of its glaring inconsistency with the longstanding “local control” platform of the SaveKPFA majority on the KPFA Local Station Board (LSB) and their PNB delegates. I have never seen a SaveKPFA explanation of how this could be compatible with the “local control” they hailed five months earlier with “Finally, local control at KPFA,” a 07/12/2014 post to the SaveKPFA blog. This vote put newly re-hired CFO Raul Salvador in a position to hire and fire and give orders to the business managers at all five stations from coast to coast.

Janet Kobren, who ran for the LSB with the United for Community Radio caucus, introduced the motion. The SaveKPFA caucus then joined her in voting for it after Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a SaveKPFA staff representative, introduced this substitute wording:

The hire and/or termination of any Business Manager shall require approval by the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

The CFO shall also directly supervise all accounting functions performed by Business Managers and shall participate in all evaluations of Business Managers.

The CFO may seek PNB approval for the termination of a Business Manager whose unit manager is unwilling to terminate him/her at the CFO’s recommendation.

How could this be “local control”?

Local control, the 2013 audit, and a million dollars in lost CPB funding

During Summer Reese’s tenure as IGM and GM, the accounting staff at the PNO charged that the 2013 audit could not be completed in 2014 unless KPFA’s Business Manager Maria Negret agreed to open KPFA’s books for the PNO’s lead accountant Maria Gaite. This audit had to be completed in order for Pacifica to receive the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB)  funds that it ultimately did not receive in 2014.

At one point I became so exasperated by the back and forth about this that I wrote to ask former KPFA General Manager Richard Pirodsky what the real problem was, and this was his e-mailed response:

“That the reconciliations should have been done long ago is the start of the problem. But it has been overcome at other stations. (Maria G. and Joyce had to do all of KPFK’s work, and work at KPFT, WPFW, and WBAI had to be re-done. All this delayed the entire process.) The holdup at KPFA came from the Marias (G. & N.), [Maria Gaite at the Pacifica National Office and Maria Negret at KPFA], not being able to work together. Maria G. wanted copies of all necessary documents. Maria N. wanted Maria G. to come over to the KPFA business office and work with her. She offered access to the original documents and Maria G. (or a chosen PNO staffer) was free to make copies of any documents that needed to be taken back to the PNO. But Maria N. and Maria G. just don’t get along and don’t seem to agree on much. As with so many aspects of Pacifica, personality conflicts preclude even the discussion of compromise or cooperation.”

I have two responses to that message:

1)  Richard Pirodsky was KPFA’s General Manager at the time. This PNB resolution centralizing control of Pacifica’s finances in the national office had not yet been passed, so he was at that time Maria Negret’s direct supervisor. He was the local manager in local control, as the SaveKPFA caucus seemed to advocate, and a million dollars is a lot to lose over a “personality conflict between the two Marias.” Didn’t he feel compelled to tell KPFA’s Maria Negret that he expected her to cooperate with the national office to get the audit done, as all four other stations’ business managers had?

Apparently not, and now, despite the loss of a million dollars in CPB funding in the name of local control, KPFA’s local manager has even less local control than before.

2)  What could have been the risk in releasing KPFA’s books to the Pacifica National Office for the audit, as every other station in the network had?  And why, after the current Board majority ousted Executive Director Summer Reese and rehired CFO Raul Salvador, was the PNB majority, and more particularly the SaveKPFA caucus, so eager to throw “local control” out the window?  The only logical conclusion I can come to is that “local control” was a useful mantra only until the SaveKPFA caucus and its allies were able to put Raul Salvador back in charge of Pacifica’s finances at the national office.

If they can explain this otherwise, I’ll do my best to listen with an open mind.

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist, a contributor to the KPFA Evening News and a member of KPFA’s elected UPSO Council.

Pacifica’s Finances Call For Drastic Action

Pacifica at the CrossroadsChief Financial Officer Report to The Pacifica National Board
December 18, 2014

I will start with the updating of the 2013 Financial Statement.

[About the audit] Again, we’re still waiting for …. err, working with the registrations to get the remainder of the other schedules, and the documentation. We are in contact with Armanino. Through recent conversations with them, we found out that the continuation of the Pittfield work will be based on, entirely, the completeness of the documentation to avoid higher cost and a partial payment of this year’s audit fees. To date, Armanino has billed the Foundation $77,000 of audit and tax preparation fees. That’s versus what was proposed in the original engagement letter of about $50,000 between audit and tax preparation fees, so we are way over that already.

We have made initial payment of about $11,000 against the 2013 fees. There are about $28,000 still unpaid and carried over from 2012 fees. Right now our oustanding balance with them is about $96,000. And in order to continue the bill work we have to commit some kind of payment against that. With our current financial condition, we are actually working to see where we can get the money, the funds to do this. I will report on that later.

That is with the [2013] audit.

The same is true with the plans for the 2014 audit. We had planned — the audit committee a couple of weeks ago had passed a motion to recommend the iED and CFO hire CPAs or accounting professionals to ensure the preparation of these other schedules to meet the March 31st deadline.

We are in process of hiring them, who would be both knowledgable in accounting as well as the Great Plains accounting software to help with the preparation of these schedules and the year-end reconciliation both for the national office and the support for the other radio stations.

It is estimated that those accounting professionals may cost up to $6,000 per month per person. We are anticipating that we probably will need at least two accounting professionals and will be on temporary assignment for at least 2-1/2 months. This will cost the Foundation an estimated $30-40,000 thru March, and since this amount is of deep concern as funds are limited, Margy and I are kind of working with the stations, and unfortunately the stations are also having some financial issues which I will report later in this.

On the status of the CPB, we are still working on achieving 100% compliance with the technical and legal requirements. . .

On the status of the CPB, we are still working on achieving 100% compliance with the technical and legal requirements, and in conjunction with the AFRs we anticipate that by the time we file our reports for the deadline of March 31st we will be in compliance with that, according to our compliance officer.

The pension plans: our 3rd party administrator is still working on the 2012 and 2013 pension catch-up payments that should have been funded by now, but due to some of the legal issues relating to that, our 3rd party administrator is still researching, and they are advising us that it is taking longer as more research is being done. They have requested more information on employees affected by this pension deposit, so we are providing that to them.

KPFKOn the tax and finances, since the last two weeks our biggest two radio stations, KPFA and KPFK operations, are both experiencing a cash crunch that’s resulted in the last December 15th, 2014 payroll barely being funded for both stations, and this is, since I got here, has never happened before. As of today, Thursday [December 18, 2014], the cash balance for these stations are very low. The funds are being monitored on a daily basis. We’re kind of in a crisis mode. The National Office management — we are working with KPFA and KPFK management to strategize and prioritize disbursement. These low balances are due to the low pledges from the ongoing December fund drive. The funds for these two stations will be questionable in the next couple of months prior to the next fund drive in early February or late January 2015.

On a station-to-station rundown, KPFA as of yesterday had a $77,000 balance in the bank of which $42,000 is being reserved for the station’s health care bill. This leaves a balance of about $35,000 with the coming payroll for December 31 estimated between $65 to $70,000. In addition, it is estimated that pending and immediate bills are projected to be $86,000.

 Now, the tough situation in the entire network demonstrates a need for more drastic actions.

Their December fund drive was based on about 60 percent of goals. KPFA only paid 50 percent of the November Central Services, and has not paid December, either.

KPFK as of yesterday had a balance of only $37,000 in the bank. The coming payroll for KPFK is estimated at $65,000 per pay period. Likewise, KPFK only paid 50 percent of November Central Services, and has not paid December 2014, the monthly fee of $36,000. There is doubt that KPFK may not be able to fully fund their December 31st 2014 payroll. A fundraising concert is scheduled this week to augment the funds at KPFK. However, payroll runs about $130,000 per month, while healthcare bills amount to about $24,000.

KPFK on the other hand remains to be the more stable station amongst Pacifica stations. They are currently current with their health care billbacks and central services.

WBAI remains to be in a tough cash situation. As of yesterday, their balance was only $18,000, where as payroll for December 31st is estimated at $22,000. The station has not paid November and December health care costs as well as Central Services. WBAI still owes two months of health care bills from fiscal year 2014. Their monthly health care bills are about $9,000. So it’s going to be difficult for WBAI to even pay the health care bills for December.

WPFW has a balance of $63,000 as of yesterday. Payroll is about $22,000 per pay period. We believe that WPFW will be able to sustain their operations through their next fund drive. However, the situation will be tight towards the back.

Now, the tough situation in the entire network demonstrates a need for more drastic actions. The National Office relies heavily on the success of each radio stations to sustain its operation. The National Office is also faced with the challenges of paying prior years’ financial obligation. Its efforts to cut costs in the National Office resulted in its ability to pay these past two bills through proper management of available funds and proper scheduling of these payments.

The management team of Pacifica, that includes the Executive Director, CFO, the general managers, program, technical and operational managers are deeply concerned with the condition of Pacifica and they are working together to come up with a solution on a national level, rather than from their individual stations. They are already aware of the respective stations’ financial issues, and are making efforts to rectify their stations’ deficiencies. However, as a group they believe that the PNB should take more drastic actions that only PNB is able to execute and implement.

Transcript by Mitchel Cohen:

Please note that some footnoting is needed. For instance, a “pay period” is used in some places, while what is owed in payroll for the month is also used. This might lead to confusion. A “pay period” is every two weeks. And, of course, while we have a static picture as of Thursday projecting expenses into the near future, funds continue to come in to be applied to the upcoming pay periods. And I am not familiar with some of the terms, such as “registrations”, etc. 

I have also isolated the questions and discussion from directors of the PNB regarding the CFOs report, and removed around 14 minutes of procedural motions, votes and chatter. You can hear it here:


No Indictment for Darren Wilson? Why Not Preempt and Throw Open the Phones?

By Ann Garrison, KPFA Unpaid Staff Council Member and Reporter/Producer

KPFA listeners seemed confused and disappointed when the station failed to preempt programming and broadcast live after the St. Louis District Attorney’s announcement that the Grand Jury would not indict Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown.

Downtown Oakland the night in question

Downtown Oakland after the announcement

I tuned into KPFA myself, right after watching the St. Louis District Attorney’s press conference on C-Span, and was surprised to hear the regularly scheduled programming, Africa Today, with Walter Turner without any Ferguson coverage.  I went back to switching between MSNBC’s outrage and Fox News’s celebration.

It later occurred to me that if Walter Turner’s show had been live, Walter would have been commenting on what had just happened, so the show must have been pre-recorded.  I also thought that, though I can’t claim to know Walter well, he most certainly would have understood if his pre-recorded show had been preempted for live broadcasting.

I didn’t otherwise have a strong opinion about what KPFA should have been doing right after the press conference. I just knew I wasn’t interested in what it was doing.  Women’s Magazine host Kate Raphael remarked later that she and a friend had been driving around, trying to figure out where a protest would be forming, and they were surprised when they weren’t able to tune into KPFA and find out.

That sounded right.  News of where protestors were gathering seems to be the minimum KPFA listeners should be able to expect.   Reporters or simply callers dialing in from the protests would have added value, and a video livestream like that arranged during the Block the Boat demonstrations would have been even better.

Former KPFA GM and WBAI PD Andrew Leslie Phillips nailed it, though, when he wrote, on a social media site, that “KPFA should have preempted and opened the phones.  It’s a no brainer.  It’s what radio does best.”

Of course.  People were emotional and/or in shock, even though very few had expected an indictment.  They would want to call in and hear others calling in and feel like KPFA was a community.  I myself turned to Facebook and Twitter for a sense of community, as I switched TV channels between MSNBC and Fox talking heads and livestreams from Ferguson, but I felt like something was missing: KPFA.  I would have liked to hear the phones thrown open and that would have been enough to assure that the location of protests gathering around the Bay would have been called in.

Andrew also wrote that, “Management are often intimidated by staff – but when program managers make intelligent, news-generated decisions, staff understand. It’s not about staff or unions, it’s about serving listeners. Preempting programs invigorates the air.  It’s almost always good radio.  And Pacifica should be out in front on this.”

He’s absolutely right.  Never mind that he’s on the Save KPFA side, I’m on the UCR side, or whatever  else.  Who cares?  He nailed it.  “KPFA should have preempted and opened the phones . . . it’s a no-brainer.   It’s what radio does best.”  I’ve always respected Andrew’s radio artistry and most always respected his programming judgment.

I don’t know why KPFA barely responded during the first days after the St. Louis Grand Jury decision and don’t care.   I just hope something that feels like community radio comes together next time, as it did after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, and during the Block the Boat for Gaza demonstrations at the Port of Oakland.  KPFA should feel proud to have played a role in the Block the Boat for Gaza organizing success that was reported by news outlets around the world, including Israel’s.

Welcome Back – KPFA Phone Room

Phone Room 1KPFA’s  fund drive phone room, where listener volunteers answer the phone to take pledges, is one of the only regularly scheduled events that brings KPFA listeners through the station’s doors. The phone room gives listeners the opportunity to meet one another, in the phone room and over the phone, and allows informal contact with KPFA staff.

During the past two fund drives, the switch to an automated system upset many listeners and staff, so it was a welcome relief when the phone room was reestablished beginning with the December 2014 fund drive.

During the pledge periods that were handled by the automated phone system, some KPFA hosts reported that listeners were unable to get through to pledge. Peter Gill, who has been a phone room volunteer since the station was located on Shattuck Avenue, wrote:

I have now heard I believe it is the fifth on-air host saying that they have been getting calls from people attempting to call and pledge over the phone that these people have been having trouble getting through. In all of the decades that I have been listening to KPFA I can’t remember ever hearing an on-air person say this before.

I thought that the rationale for switching from volunteer phone answerers to a call center was that calls were being missed by the phone volunteers, a problem which I as a phone volunteer never saw. What is going on here? Add to this the added cost of the call center and the whole thing makes no sense. I greatly enjoyed volunteering and it was a great way for those with not much money to become members.

Phone room 2Some staff and listeners also objected to using KPFA and KPFK listeners’ contributions to pay Comnet, the Oregon-based commercial call center, after it was revealed that its owner, Bruce Hough, works as a right-wing campaign consultant.

So, welcome back to the phone room and to all the loyal listener member volunteers who staff it.  May it be one of many things grounding KPFA in our local communities for many years to come.

By Ann Garrison