Public Comment

Commentary: Hear the Facts About KPFA’s Unpaid Staff Organization 

By Anthony Fest, Lisa Dettmer, Nick Alexander, Bonnie Faulkner, Shahram Aghamir, Malihe Razazan
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:33:00 AM

We KPFA unpaid-staff members would like to respond to Marcia Rautenstrauch’s attack on our Unpaid Staff Organization, published in last week’s Planet “KPFA Unpaid Staff and the Elections.”  

Coincidentally, but appropriately, her commentary appeared next to another article titled “Union Busting 101.” Our UPSO is the closest thing the unpaid staff has to a union, yet incumbent  manager Lemlem Rijio and her accomplices have tried to undermine or marginalize it. They’ve done the same with other KPFA institutions they weren’t able to control, notably the Program Council, which existed for decades, but is now effectively disbanded, leaving management to make program decisions unilaterally without the impediment of discussion or voting.  

Ms. Rautenstrauch makes an array of assertions that simply aren’t true; here are some examples:  

• So far this year, UPSO has held four meetings of the membership; these have been announced via email, and notices at the station, from four to five days in advance, not “one or two days” as Ms. Rautenstrauch claims. 

• Ms. Rautenstrauch says that, “almost no staff has endorsed” the Independents for Community Radio candidates in the Local Station Board election. Actually, many staff have done so, including Robbie Osman, Gabrielle Wilson, Pedro Navarro, Khalil Bendib, and Nora Barrows-Friedman; the full list of endorsers can be seen at  In fact, the ICR candidates have more KPFA staff endorsements than does the rival Concerned Listeners slate. 

• The history lesson: it’s true there was a time when a small group of loud, rude individuals caused disturbances at UPSO meetings. But they’ve been gone for years. By 2007, when GM Rijio “derecognized” UPSO, they’d already left and the organization was reviving itself. 

• Cover-to-Cover host Denny Smithson has not been “kept off the voting rolls,” as Ms. Rautenstrauch asserts; he’s been included in every iteration of the UPSO membership list. 

Ms. Rautenstrauch herself is not on UPSO’s membership list because she is not a programmer. The traditional election practice at KPFA has been that unpaid programmers (news reporters, DJs, producers, engineers, etc.) vote as staff, while volunteers not connected with programming, such as Ms. Rautenstrauch (who helps in the mailroom) are issued listener-member ballots, their volunteer time replacing or supplementing a financial contribution to the station. In fact, KPFA’s Local Election Supervisor for 2006 says that Ms. Rautenstrauch was counted as a listener voter in that election. Now, however, she’s evidently decided she wants to be “staff,” although there’s no precedent at KPFA (nor at KPFA’s sister stations) for counting administrative volunteers as staff for election purposes. This is not to disparage her contribution (everyone who volunteers time to KPFA deserves gratitude), but only to point out that long-established practices shouldn’t be altered just because one person demands it.  

The reader will notice that the UPSO saga is closely intertwined with KPFA’s Local Station Board elections. When Rijio “derecognized” UPSO in 2007, one consequence was that management could make up its own unpaid-staff list for the staff portion of that year’s LSB election, rather than using UPSO’s membership list. Now another LSB election is underway, and along comes another attack on UPSO. It’s not a surprise, but still a disappointment, that some people at a supposedly pro-labor institution would look to undermine the only collective organization that the unpaid staff have. Meanwhile, although Rijio nominally “rerecognized” UPSO earlier this year, she still has not restored the previously-existing unpaid-staff representation in program decision-making or on hiring committees.  

Is UPSO perfect? Certainly not, but it also confronts circumstances that other labor alliances do not. Unlike a union local for paid employees, UPSO has no state or national parent organization, collects no dues, has no bank account, and can’t hold meetings on “company time.” In this informal environment, tasks get done only when members step up to do them. Moreover, most KPFA unpaid staffers have day jobs and other responsibilities, as well as their KPFA programs to attend to, so setting aside additional time for UPSO is not easy. But that’s the nature of KPFA itself, where the majority of workers are unpaid.  

And where do we stand regarding the LSB elections? We thank the Independents for Community Radio candidates for their staunch support of the unpaid staff, and we urge KPFA voters to choose ICR candidates. Read more at, and remember to vote! Ballots are due by October 15.  


The authors are unpaid staff members at KPFA, and are present or former members of the UPSO Council or Program Council.