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

KPFA: Radio Programs for the Community and Social Change, or for SaveKPFA’s Staff Allies and Their Jobs?

KPFA clock in orangeRecently KPFA/Pacifica management abruptly cancelled the Morning Mix (MIX), 8-9 a.m. M-F, and replaced it with Uprisings, a program produced in Los Angeles by a person who lives in Los Angeles. The MIX was five (5) separate programs, primarily focused on politics in local communities, workplaces, and unions. They were produced by several volunteer programmers who live, work and are politically active in the Bay Area.

This radical departure away from community based programming in the 8-9 a.m. prime time slot appears to be another consolidation of power by the SaveKPFA political faction. SaveKPFA with their long time ally, Justice and Unity at WBAI and allies at the other Pacifica stations, recently gained a narrow majority on the Pacifica National Board (PNB).

For a historical look at their destructive alliance see Pacifica Financial Crisis: Who is Responsible? Tyranny of the majority has been a mainstay of SaveKPFA’s MO. Abruptly taking away the 8-9 a.m. prime time from several community programmers, none of who are SaveKPFA allies, and replacing all of them with a program produced by one of their allies in LA is just the latest example. No poll was taken of the listeners’ desires. No public discussions of this major change were held and there was no discussion of this change at a full staff meeting. Another stark example of SaveKPFA’s tyranny of the majority is discussed in Without Due Process. This article exposes SaveKPFA’s current Pacifica National Board Chair, Margy Wilkinson‘s willingness to blatantly disregard the truth to push their unprincipled politics, denying due process to punish an opponent.  She may become the new Interim Executive Director.

Since the mid-1990s there has been a constant attempt by a small group of paid staff and some unpaid staff allies to control the allocation of air time and paid jobs to the benefit of their political friends and allies, regardless of the cost to KPFA and often in derogation of the Pacifica Mission. When the Pacifica management moved the station toward an NPR sound in the mid-1990s this paid staff group and their allies sat quietly watching as over 100 community programmers were taken off the air. Seven Long Years by Maria Gilardin is a history of these events covering 1992 to 1999.

In 1999 the struggle with Pacifica management went into the streets and then into the courts after a leaked document exposed the plans to sell a station. Out came new Bylaws with a democratic process for the governance of Pacifica and its stations. The SaveKPFA group, formally Concerned Listeners and KPFA Forward and often referred to as the “entrenched staff” (SK/CL), prior to the Wellstone Democratic Club joining with them, have done their best to dismantle the democratic process when they can’t control it.

Not everyone that fought against the “hijackers,” Pacifica management in 1999, did it for the same reason. Most listeners and community activists and some staff, paid and unpaid, fought for a democratic governance that allowed listener input. The entrenched staff fought the “hijackers” to be able to impose their own patronage and cronyism control at KPFA.  Ten Years after 1999 Hijack Attempt documents several of their moves to consolidate control for their group from 2003-2009.Today in Radical History

SaveKPFA is willing to dismantle the democratic governance, not refine it, if they can’t control it. An internal email from Brian Edwards-Tiekert to the strategy group for the entrenched staff was found at the station and it exposed their true feeling about the struggles at KPFA and Pacifica. You will find this email and a discussion about how their selfish politics have hurt KPFA/Pacifica in an article titled, ‘Me First’ Politics and Financial Responsibility.

The majority of the programming is done by unpaid staff, like the MIX producers. The small group of paid staff that works with SaveKPFA to maintain control takes advantage of all the volunteer labor to support their paid positions. The article KPFA’s Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Trust reviews their practices from a labor perspective.

In 2003 after the US invaded Iraq there was no question that Democracy Now! (DN!) was the most popular/listened to program on the air.  However, it was not given prime time status since prime time, 7-9 am, was reserved for the “entrenched “produced Morning Show. It is long established radio knowledge that you put your most popular program in prime time to increase your audience when the most people are listening. During 2003 KPFA had a Program Council. After continued attempts by the “entrenched” to stop a discussion of a DN! time change to prime time, it finally got on the agenda. The program council voted to move DN! to prime time.

The issue was taken up by the newly-elected Local Station Board (LSB). At a meeting in April 2004 the DN! time change to prime time was on the agenda and the “entrenched” and their allies on the LSB stalled the meeting until it ran out of time before getting to the DN! time change motion. Sarv Randhawa, an “entrenched” ally continually made amendments to the motion after each one was voted down. You could see Sarv writing down each new amendment as the previous one was being voted down. Many of us always wondered about Sarv’s politics and our concerns were reinforced when he appeared on TV at Republican fundraisers for the 2012 election. At the May 2004 meeting of the LSB, the motion to move DN! to prime time was thoroughly debated and passed. As in April the room was packed with listeners, the overwhelming majority in favor of the DN! move to prime time. The time change was not instituted since the Interim Station manager, an entrenched ally, refused to make the move.

Roy Campanella Jr

Roy Campanella Jr

With a slim majority the SK/CL selected Roy Campanella Jr. to be the new permanent station manager. His tenure was going along so so until he announced that he was going move DN! to prime time in the spring of 2005. Roy had worked in media and understood how important it was to put your best/most listened to program in prime time. The proverbial shit hit the fan!

All of a sudden there were flyers up around the station demonizing Roy. Claims that he was sexually harassing staff appeared. There were two investigations of these claims; one by an Human Resources expert and one by the LSB who hired Dan Siegel to do the investigation. As an LSB member, I suggested a woman professional investigator who had a PhD in criminology and who was not on any side in the dispute. I felt that the alleged women victims would be able to talk more openly to a woman investigator, but the SK/CL folks wanted their man, Dan Siegel, on the job. Both investigators found no evidence of sexual harassment.

The LSB voted 15-5 against firing Roy. The entrenched staff message was clear: mess with “our program schedule” and you will regret it. After all the turmoil created by the unfounded accusations and the posting of demonizing flyers around the station Roy left as station manager and LemLem Rigio was appointed interim station manager. She was one of the recipients of Brian Edwards-Tiekert’s 2005 email discussed and linked to above.

SaveKPFA and their allies have used their power over the program schedule to punish those at the station that don’t go along with their desires to maintain control. At an LSB meeting discussing the hiring process for a new station manager in 2007 a couple of women who work on the Women’s Magazine program, the only program specifically for women’s issues, suggested during public comment that qualified women candidates should be given consideration and at the same time they stated that they didn’t think the current interim station manager, Lemlem Rigio, a SaveKPFA/Concerned Listener ally, should be promoted to permanent manager.

Recent Women's Magazine guest, radical queer writer & activist, Yasmin Nair

Recent Women’s Magazine guest, radical queer writer & activist, Yasmin Nair

Not too long after that meeting a new pilot program produced by a SaveKPFA ally was put on the air for a test run. It was given the Women’s Magazine time slot for several weeks before it was given a Monday – Friday one hour time and the Women’s Magazine was allowed back on the air. It should be noted that when this was done there were 30+ music programs on the air and only ONE program covering women’s issues. The message was again quite clear; don’t speak out against any of the control group’s plans for control or you will pay. But for the numerous complaints that came in when their program was abruptly replaced, it is quite possible the Women’s Magazine would have been kept off the air. So much for KPFA being a “Free Speech” radio station, at least internally.

Based on the generous donations during 2003 after Iraq was invaded based on lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction, the entrenched increased the paid staff by 50%, mostly with their friends and allies. The payroll went from 28 to 42 full time equivalents. Many of us in the minority on the LSB constantly suggested that we needed to cut down the payroll. KPFA’s payroll was the largest in Pacifica. Our pleas were ignored despite reduced revenue and lower membership numbers each year until the crisis got very serious and layoffs were necessary. The SaveKPFA folks and their staff allies consistently accused us of being anti-union for wanting to have layoffs if necessary for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget.

During an LSB meeting discussing the budget in the Fall of 2010, Shahram Aghamir made a motion to have the budget coordinated with the union contract if any layoffs were required. This would mean that layoffs would be done by seniority, unless there were exceptional circumstances. The SaveKPFA response was a major surprise given their constant anti-union charges against all their political opponents for almost any criticism. The SaveKPFA LSB members ALL voted NO! They obviously didn’t want to follow the union contract seniority rules. They wanted to control any necessary layoffs in the same patronage and cronyism manner that they have ran the station for years. More information on their duplicitous pro-union rhetoric can be found in this article, Playing the Union Card.

Prior to getting involved in KPFA and Pacifica I worked in commercial radio, AM and FM, doing music programs, public affairs and some news casts. One of the many things about radio that I learned in those 5+ years was that cross promoting helps build your audience. When I became involved with KPFA I encouraged consistent cross promoting to build our audience and create more loyalty. What the SaveKPFA folks have done at the station I would call sectarian cross referring. During the entire time of the MIX I never heard Brian Edwards-Tiekert or any of their allies mention the MIX other than to say when his program ended the MIX is next. Always when he was pitching during DN! from 6-7 he would promote his upcoming 7 am show and never mention the MIX at 8 am.broken Transmitter tower

SaveKPFA’s sectarian practices take other forms such as how the Evening News, SaveKPFA allies, report on LSB elections. They only interview folks from their slate. When I was Chair of the LSB and brought back to life the monthly LSB Report to Listeners, I would always invite people from their side to be on the program and give them equal time to state their positions on any issues before the LSB or station. When they took over the majority and producing the LSB Report program they didn’t always do a monthly LSB Report and generally when they did it was tightly controlled as to who would be on and who got to speak, almost exclusively their allies.

Their practices don’t square with the KPFA Mission which is to allow the expression of minority opinions in our society to be aired, especially the ones that those in power don’t want the people to hear. From all my experiences at KPFA, I must conclude that the SaveKPFA folks have run and want to run KPFA and Pacifica with the same anti-democratic methods that our ruling class uses: Win power by controlling the information the masses receive; preach democratic principles and practice tyranny of the majority and deny due process to your opponents whenever possible.

…the SaveKPFA folks have run and want to run KPFA and Pacifica with the same anti-democratic methods that our ruling class uses: Win power by controlling the information the masses receive; preach democratic principles and practice tyranny of the majority and deny due process to your opponents whenever possible.

KPFA and Pacifica are in deep financial trouble, primarily due to sectarian practices by SaveKPFA and their allies at other stations, always putting their power, control, jobs and airtime, over and above the health and survival of KPFA and Pacifica. During these tenuous times please ignore their rhetoric and judge them by their consistent unprincipled actions, detailed above, that are always designed for their benefit and most often to the detriment of the Pacifica Mission and progressive movements.

These neo-progressives, folks that espouse progressive politics but practice like Karl Rove, (winning power is Rove’s only principle), must not be allowed to destroy KPFA and Pacifica. Taking off the Morning Mix and replacing it with a program by one of SK/CL’s Los Angeles allies is just their latest attack on the Pacifica Mission and the need for progressive community radio that is responsive to the day-to-day struggles of people in the Bay Area who are fighting for social and economic justice every day.

Demand that the Morning Mix be put back on the air and if there is a LSB election; please do not vote for any SaveKPFA candidates.

Richard Phelps, KPFA LSB Chair 2005-2006. The history I present herein from 2003 on is based on my own direct involvement. 

Feel free to forward this article.

Richard Phelps
Member, California Academy of Distinguished Neutrals
405 14th Street, Suite 511
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 268-9919, Fax (510) 268-0368