Public Comment

Commentary: On KPFA’s Concerned Listeners

By Virginia Jones
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 09:41:00 AM

Readers of the Daily Planet might have noticed an odd disconnect in the recent exchanges between the supporters of Concerned Listeners (CL) and their opponents in the current KPFA Local Station Board elections.  CL’s endorsers are heavy on the labor side, including at least two Labor Councils, the leadership of several others, not to mention scores of militant organizers from a wide range of unions.  Yet some of our attackers have called us anti-worker.  Such is the mudslinging in this election.  


Many CL candidates, like myself, come out of the labor movement—I grew up in a farm worker family, and I’ve been a trade unionist all my life. We stand in support of the workers at the station in the face of animosity from unexpected places—such as the KPFA board and candidates.  I have been particularly disturbed by the hostility of our opponents to the union staff at KPFA, who are members of the Communications Workers of America.  A number of people running for the KPFA board have come out against a statement by KPFA’s union asking candidates to vow to raise money for the station.  Given that fundraising is one of the duties of the board, spelled out in the Pacifica bylaws, such a position should be of concern to all voting listener-members of KPFA who care about the station’s health.  I certainly vow to raise money for KPFA if I am elected to the board, as both a responsible board member and as a proud union supporter. 



I also hear there is talk within Pacifica of using this economic crisis as an opportunity to get rid of paid staff at KPFA and change to an all-volunteer station. That's an elitist model that leaves the radio station in the hands of those who can afford to work long hours for free. That sounds pretty anti-union to me.    


So here’s the irony: the Concerned Listeners slate is made of labor folks, backed by labor leaders and rank-and-filers, supports KPFA's union, and yet some of candidates running against CL have accused us of “union busting.”  Why?  Because some of us didn't  insist that the station’s management recognize just any old group of people calling itself an unpaid staff organization as a volunteer collective bargaining unit.  



This is actually a pretty easy call if you are a trade unionist. Calling yourself a union doesn’t make you one. In every union I was ever in we had elections or collected cards indicating that more than 50 percent of the workforce—the real work force—wanted representation.   Membership rules are very important. No group of workers wants to be represented by an organization whose membership is not tied to specific work requirements. The reason is simple: those who work have a real stake in the outcome of a dispute between labor and management. An organization that is composed of people, paid or unpaid, who only have a tangential relationship to production doesn't have much on the line when it comes to a fight. 


So, why did some Concerned Listeners members voice reservations about supporting recognition of the current Unpaid Staff Organization at KPFA? There is a contradiction between the Pacifica bylaws and the charter of the current unpaid staff organization. The bylaws say you have to volunteer 30 hours every three months under the supervision of station management to qualify as "unpaid staff" and earn voting rights.  But the rules of KPFA's Unpaid Staff Organization say that you only have to volunteer 30 hours in a year, 

that work doesn't have to be supervised, and if there's any dispute, it'll be the Unpaid Staff Organization leadership that decides whether or not you qualify. Under the former rule everyone can be confident that an unpaid staff member is actually doing something, and therefore has the right to vote for staff representatives on the LSB.  Under the latter rule, however, a faction on the unpaid staff organization could pack the election with its allies and essentially load the dice. Not only is that unfair to KPFA members, it reduces the unpaid staff organization to little more than a way to win elections. And recognition lets those rules trump the ones in Pacifica's Bylaws. 


KPFA's unpaid staff have a right to organize -- but I hope we could all agree that any Unpaid Staff Organization recognized by KPFA should be composed of people who actually work at the station, under station supervision, for a substantial amount of time. Otherwise you have a phony organization that keeps real workers off its rolls to prevent them from voting—a charge a number of unpaid staff have made against the current unpaid staff organization—and just acts in the interest of the so-called “independent” faction. 


So if you want a board at KPFA that respects the station's union employees enough to contribute to fundraising efforts during tough times, and respects the station's unpaid staff enough to want them represented by more than a sham front group, support our Concerned Listeners slate. Check us out online at www.concernedlisteners