Pacifica poised to slash KPFA’s union staff – PROTEST Thursday noon

The union representing KPFA’s paid workers believes Pacifica management is preparing to move ahead with layoffs of more than a quarter of the station’s staff, including core shows such as the Morning Show, Against the Grain, Hard Knock Radio and the KPFA Evening News, along with other vital positions at the station. (For more on what’s behind the cuts, see this just-off-the-press article by Pacifica historian Matthew Lasar.)

KPFA’s union workers are inviting all listeners and concerned community members to join them for an informational picket:

Pacifica National Office
1925 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Berkeley

Pacifica’s executive director, Arlene Engelhardt, appeared on the Morning Show last week to talk about a plan to replace KPFA’s paid staff with volunteers, which would dramatically affect much of KPFA’s programming.

Engelhardt has rejected most of the alternative proposals put forward in a Sustainable KPFA Budget backed by workers, the local station board, and KPFA management, and refused to reveal her own salary and those of other high-level managers. While Pacifica’s plan would lay off a large portion of the union staff, the Sustainable Budget would reduce bureaucratic overhead and board expense rather than cut on-air programming.

KPFA’s union, CWA Local 9415, asks “listeners and the larger progressive and labor community to take a stand against union busting at America’s first listener-sponsored radio station” on November 4. Both the San Francisco Labor Council and the Alameda Labor Council have unanimously passed strong resolutions condemning Pacifica for its anti-union activities.

Listener-sponsors have been contacting the executive director with letters of support for KPFA’s staff and programming, some of which we’ve reprinted here.

Proposed Cuts Threaten KPFA

KPFA, the nation’s longest operating listener-sponsored radio station and flagship of the five-station Pacifica network, has faced many crises. But a plan from Pacifica national to lay off many of the station’s core staff, while ignoring more progressive solutions to a budget shortfall, could decimate programming at the venerable 61-year-old Berkeley institution.

Like other non-profits, KPFA faces decreased donations in the current economy. The national Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFA, is responding with drastic budget cuts which would likely remove the station’s most widely listened-to broadcasters and its most effective fundraisers.

“These cuts would dramatically affect what KPFA listeners hear,” said Margy Wilkinson, a member of SaveKPFA, a slate of candidates which won a majority on the station’s local governance board election earlier this month. “Such changes would be highly counterproductive, as they would reduce listenership and diminish the station’s future ability to fundraise.”

Among the programs that may be cut are the Morning Show, Against the Grain, and the KPFA Evening News. Most of the staff on these popular programs have signed statements critical of the national board’s policies. In the wake of a misdirected email that named these employees specifically for layoff, many believe they are now being targeted for speaking out.

“The station has long been an environment where debate is encouraged and political commitment is valued,” said Max Pringle, a labor and general assignment news reporter at KPFA. “It is highly disturbing that workers who are exercising their right to free speech now face being fired, and in effect censored, by the current Pacifica management.”

SPEAK UP: write a note to Pacifica management here.

Sustainable Budget Wins Broad Support

KPFA’s unionized staff, represented by the Communications Workers of America Local 9415, have drafted what they call the Sustainable KPFA Budget to meet the shortfall, aiming to preserve programming and on-air fundraising capacities.

Their proposals include cutting more than $110,000 in expenses for meetings of the Pacifica National Board, spreading out KPFA’s repayment of back-dues to Pacifica, and charging Pacifica rent for the KPFA-owned building it occupies. Individual staff members have also offered to save KPFA money by switching to less-expensive health plans.

On October 16, KPFA’s local station board endorsed those staff proposals. KPFA’s local management also supported the changes.

On October 19, Pacifica’s national finance committee rejected the budget proposals put forth by KPFA’s staff and local board, as reported by the KPFA Evening News the following day.

“The plan we supported would have saved jobs and preserved important station resources, not least of which is the listenership,” said Pamela Drake, a SaveKPFA listener member of the local board. “If we cut our best fundraisers and programmers, we’re going to lose listeners, and that’s a vicious circle that ends up killing the station.”

The Pacifica Radio network is an independent, non-profit organization that operates five radio stations, including KPFA in Berkeley, KPFK in Los Angeles, WBAI in New York City, KPFT in Houston, and WPFW in Washington, DC.

KPFA has already cut nearly a fifth of its workforce over the course of the past year. Without any of the Sustainable KPFA Budget measures in place, the station would be forced to cut up to 25% more, while paying Pacifica an unprecedented $752,000 in the current fiscal year. That’s 21.3% of KPFA’S projected $3.5 million in revenues.

“KPFA’s generating enough income to pay the costs of running the radio station,” said Mal Burnstein, top-vote getter in the local board election last month. “But it’s not generating enough to also pay $752,000 toward Pacifica’s national bureaucracy. We think it’s clear that Pacifica’s bloated budget needs to be cut first.” Pacifica national office salaries are much higher than KPFA’s, particularly for managers.

SPEAK UP: write a note to Pacifica management here.