Public Comment

Time for the KPFA Community to Come Together

By Akio Tanaka,KPFA LSB member
Wednesday April 27, 2011 - 11:26:00 AM

This time last year KPFA was in dire financial circumstances. The Pacifica National Board (PNB) stepped in to bring the KPFA finances under control which necessitated some cuts in staff. Seven people took voluntary severance, and in the end two people were laid off. 

A controversy about the cuts ensued and has divided the KPFA community. The five months of controversy have revealed some of the substantive differences between those who propose different solutions, but it is time for the KPFA community to come together. 

1. Chronology: Sept 2010 to March 2011 

September: The ‘Listener Support’ declined sharply between 2005 and 2009, ‘Payments to Pacifica’ was reduced proportionately and Pacifica laid off most of its staff two years ago, but there was no corresponding reduction in ‘Salaries and Benefits’ at KPFA. KPFA was on a brink of bankruptcy so the PNB intervened to make cuts in the staff. However, some claimed that Pacifica had a hit list to purge political opponents which caused much alarm amongst the staff. 

November: Pacifica offered all the KPFA paid staff an option to take voluntary severance. In the end seven people took voluntary severance and two people were laid off, Brian Edwards-Tiekert and Aimee Allison. The layoffs followed the union contract which says: “In cases where skill, ability, knowledge and job performance are all equal, or could be equal in the opinion of the Employer after reasonable orientation and training, seniority shall prevail”. The contract also gave seniority bumping rights to laid-off members. However, some claimed that layoff violated the terms of the union contract and that Pacifica was engaged in union busting which caused many labor supporters to question the cuts. 

March: Brian exercised his seniority bumping rights, which was available to him from the beginning, and was rehired as a paid staff of the News Department. However, some claimed that Pacifica was forced to hire Brian back and that Pacifica then tried to layoff John Hamilton in retaliation. 

2. Casting the Cuts as Management-Union Conflict. 

Some have tried to cast the cuts as a conflict between management and union and vilified the Pacifica management, especially the Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt. 

One board member, Matt Hallinan wrote in the Planet that “ArleneEngelhardt seized all power at KPFA.” 

Arlene saved KPFA from brink of bankruptcy by making the necessary cuts, after which she installed a General Manager and an interim Program Director. 

Another board member, Pamela Drake, posted on the Web that “Arlene-Engelhardt-Walker and her austerity budget, but has she taken a pay cut?” “Austerity, austerity, austerity, Engelhardt takes lessons from Gov. Walker. Shame, shame. She is killing the station as every staffing cut they make seems to reduce income while she takes more for the Pacifica bureaucracy. Shame.” 

Arlene, the Executive Director, makes twice the salary of an entry level paid staff; Pacifica has a very flat organizational pay scale. 

Another board member, Mal Burnstein, posted on the Web that “From what we are hearing so far, the new IGM is sounding like a fig leaf over Arlene's exposed genitals.” 

Kriss Worthington of the Berkeley City Council astutely observed, this is not a battle between management and union but a battle between progressives that have differing visions for KPFA and Pacifica. 

We need to reject people who have tried to cast this as management union conflict, and especially those who have engaged in vilification of Arlene Engelhardt. 

3. Time for the KPFA Community to Come Together 

Because seven people took voluntary severance, only two people were laid off, and one of those was rehired by exercising his bumping rights. 

The new morning line up has Democracy Now in a timeslot where more people can listen to it, and KPFA listeners can now also listen to Al Jazeera. 

In the interim, to help meet the financial challenges facing the station, volunteer listeners and the unpaid staff stepped up to produce the Morning Mix. 

We should be thankful of the skills and dedication of paid and unpaid staff that have allowed the station to continue to broadcast good radio in times of financial challenges. 

We progressives can engage in constructive debate about how the station should be run, what really serves the progressive community and furthers the goals of independent media, but first and foremost the station must be financially viable in order to remain independent. 

In spite of the conflict at the station, the listeners have continued to financially support the station, donating very generously during the recent fund drives, so that April financial report shows that KPFA has slight surplus for the fiscal year. (Station still has sizable past due expenses.) 

We should give credit to the Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt for trying to reign in the precarious financial situation at KPFA and helping to put the station on a more solid financial footing.