KPFA workers uncover retirement shortfalls, endorse Occupy Oakland strike

KPFA's Sasha Lilley (left) & Mitch Jeserich (right) broadcasting from Occupy Oakland

Union workers at KPFA say that Pacifica has been shorting their retirement accounts, in violation of federal law. reports that when employees got their quarterly statements from account provider ING, “they noticed that Pacifica had taken money out of their paychecks but had not put the money into their pensions during half of the weeks recorded.”

After two KPFA union members investigated and obtained documents about Pacifica’s payments (as is their right under the federal law), they received “terse” emails from both interim KPFA general manager Andrew Phillips and Pacifica’s executive director Arlene Engelhardt threatening legal action if they shared the information.

Union rep Christina Huggins of CWA Local 9415 stepped in. After receiving no response to her queries from either Engelhardt or Pacifica’s CFO Lavarn Williams, Huggins wrote this letter to the Pacifica National Board, to whom both Engelhardt and Williams report. “This is a form of wage theft, and it is a very serious matter,” Huggins wrote.  “The scope of this problem is large: We have seen this pattern for every employee whose records we have been able to check,” she wrote, adding that similar problems were identified as far back as a year and a half. “I’m writing to you as fiduciaries of the Pacifica Foundation,” Huggins continued, “because what we are dealing with is looking less like an error and more like a pattern: Missing payments, lack of transparency, hostility to employees who ask financial questions, unwillingness to release basic financial documents. These are classic warning signs of financial mismanagement and/or internal fraud.”

Engelhardt eventually responded, admitting the payments were overdue but saying they had finally been made. “They’ve not paid for lost interest, nor have they notified all the affected workers,” one KPFA worker told us.

Financial transparency lacking at Pacifica
In the wake of the retirement fund blowup, SaveKPFA reps have been pressing Pacifica management for financial transparency. Pacifica National Board members Dan Siegel, Andrea Turner and Laura Prives (who serve on the KPFA local board as well), have exercised their right to have their agents (KPFA treasurer Barbara Whipperman, and Brian Edwards-Tiekert, a former KPFA treasurer) inspect Pacifica’s books.

So far, they report that Pacifica management has been less than forthcoming — insisting all document requests be submitted in writing, unilaterally canceling scheduled inspections, and paying an attorney to write them a threatening letter.

Pacifica to put KPFA’s money in B of A?
While the Occupy Wall Street protests have inspired record numbers of people to move their money out of corporate mega-banks, Pacifica management is trying to move its stations’ money in.

Pacifica’s chief financial officer LaVarn Williams is pressuring KPFA and the other stations Pacifica owns, to move their business to Bank of America. (KPFA’s business manager has solicited a proposal from a local bank that would cost $20,000 per year less in fees).

Meanwhile, KPFA’s union staff passed a resolution in support of Occupy Oakland‘s Nov. 2 general strike, and the station’s journalists joined the movement on the streets to do extensive live coverage of the actions.