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Labor Collective Fights KPFA Ban

By Judith Scherr
Friday September 01, 2006

The name of its parent foundation is Pacifica. Nonetheless, during the more-than-half-century of progressive radio programming, KPFA has often been home to interpersonal tensions that periodically boil over into public view. 

The most recent clash is between the station’s Program Council and the KPFA Labor Collective. The collective has created ad hoc programming on labor issues for the last several years. 

The Program Council is a body of 14 people, including representatives of the paid staff, the unpaid staff, department heads and listeners. It meets weekly to review programming and to evaluate proposals for new programming.  

Citing “deteriorating relationships with the station staff,” in March the council banned the Labor Collective from offering program proposals for a year. The collective will hold a picket outside the station at 1 p.m. on Labor Day to protest the ban. 

“They say we can’t submit proposals. I’ve never heard of this before,” said Steve Zeltzer, Labor Collective chair. 

The collective has produced numerous shows, including those airing on Labor Day, May Day and International Women’s Day. While continuing to submit proposals for special programming, Zeltzer said his collective were also lobbying the council for a regular labor show.  

Much of the tension at the station over the years has been due to finite limitations in time and resources. Zeltzer pointed out that some people have had their programs for years. 

“They feel the space is their own personal time slot,” he said. 

While the Program Council voted 12-2 to support the ban, the two dissenters, Joe Wanzala and Sepideh Khosrowjah, both of whom represent the Local Station Board on the Program Council, pointed to resource allocation as the underlying factor in the dispute. 

In March they wrote: ”It is our opinion that the expressed concerns about the behavior of the Labor Collective mask a real problem at the station—a failure to re-assess KPFA’s entire programming grid to create more space for new programming and reduce the tensions and frustrations associated with access to airtime which is an artificial scarce resource at KPFA.” 

Program Council facilitator Tracy Rosenberg supports the ban. In a phone interview, Rosenberg accused the Labor Collective of overwhelming the council with work. 

“They submitted 16 to18 proposals in a 12-month period,” she said, noting that the council approved some proposals, modified some and rejected others.  

Furthermore, Rosenberg said that reports came to her of negative interpersonal interactions with station staff. She was more specific in a letter written to the Local Station Board, accusing the collective of “rude and confrontational language.” 

The complaints merited a 12-month “time out” she told the Daily Planet. 

No mediation has occurred, Rosenberg said, noting however: “That might be a good idea.” 

As a volunteer group, the Program Council does not have the time and resources to address interpersonal issues, she said. 

“No doubt had there been a stronger general manager, there would have been leadership on the issue,” she added. After the resignation of embattled General Manager Roy Campanella in January, there were a few months without a general manager; Lemlem Rijio was named acting general manager in April.  

Rijio said she did not want to comment on the Labor Collective situation at this time, but noted “a human resources consultant is looking into it.” 

In their letter to the local station board, dissenters Wanzala and Khosrowjah did not condone the negative behavior of some of the collective members, but said they were signaled out in an unfair way. 

“Many instances of such behavior remain unaddressed by the relevant authorities—making this action by the Program Council appear discriminatory and hypocritical,” they wrote. 

They concluded that rather than taking action to ban proposals, a complaint should have been lodged with KPFA management. 

Adding another layer of complexity to the picture, Acting Program Coordinator Vini Beacham said that, in fact, last week he accepted a proposal from the Labor Collective but returned it for more information, as is common with such proposals. In his role as program coordinator, Beacham said he turns completed proposals over to the Program Council for its consideration. The next step, he said, will be up to the council.