The KPFA Worker website says that the Pacifica Foundation has retained the law firm of Jackson Lewis to manage some of its legal affairs. The foundation owns listener supported station KPFA in Berkeley, and four similar non-commercial stations in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C. and Houston.
“We see the entry of Jackson Lewis as a declaration of war on the unions that represent Pacifica workers,” wrote KPFA’s union stewards to their employer last week. “We fear it will lead to unnecessary legal expenses the network can ill afford, sour Pacifica’s already dismal relationship with its union workers, and alienate many listener-supporters who do not want their donations to be handed over to one of organized labor’s greatest enemies in the United States.”
KPFA’s paid staff is represented by the Communications Workers of America. Jackson Lewis is widely regarded as a management law firm that practices “union avoidance.” The pro-union American Rights at Work website cites numerous instances of the aggressive stance that the firm allegedly counsels for its clients, among them Borders Books.
“Borders is a regular client of Jackson Lewis,” ARW notes. “The firm helped Borders crush union support by firing union activists and threatening to close stores if workers voted for union representation. Borders even banned Michael Moore from speaking at an event at all stores because he is a known union supporter.”
Also The New York Daily News: “The publisher of the New York Daily News hired Jackson Lewis six months before union contracts expired in 1989, in preparation for a ‘war’ with the unions. The workers eventually went on strike in response to the employer’s refusal to bargain contracts with the workers in good faith.”
I don’t know why Pacifica has taken this route. Jackson Lewis is not the only questionable firm, from a pro-union perspective, that Pacifica may have deployed. Littler Mendelson appears to be working for the foundation as well [UPDATE (3/23/2012) The Littler Mendelson link that I referenced in this article may just be a listing of NLRB cases, rather than a listing of cases that the firm is handling].
I’d write to the Pacifica National Office and ask them for an explanation, but they never answer my e-mails. But Mitchel Cohen, Chair of Pacifica station WBAI in New York City’s Local Station Board, was kind enough to respond to my request for more information and his perspective on the matter. I reproduce his response unedited, and in full:
Pacifica’s use of the Jackson-Lewis law corporation was news to me. It has never come before the Local Board—nor do any of these sorts of contracts.
I don’t like using large corporate law firms as they are invariably involved in scummy business. On the other hand, I wish Pacifica was not being sued by some folks who are using despicable methods that the network needs to protect itself against. As those suing us know only too well, individual “movement” lawyers often do not have sufficient resources to defend the interests of the network from such unscrupulous firms and individuals.
We live in the capital of capitalism, and are not immune from the contradictions that entails and which permeate our lives.
I inquired, and I’ve been told that this is not a new decision (to use Jackson-Lewis)—which does not make it any better; I just write that to show that the Jackson-Lewis hiring is not specific to any particular case. Here’s what I’ve been told:
All decisions to use Jackson-Lewis in insurance cases were approved by the board in prior years—apparently beginning in 2009, on the recommendation of Pacifica’s corporate counsel, Ricardo deAnda.
The board also approved settlements secured by Jackson-Lewis on 2 previous occasions in 2011.
Nothing has changed in the scope of work. Jackson-Lewis is continuing to handle some litigation defense when cases are expected to exceed the insurance policy. It’s probably best to have one firm do the case from beginning to end, rather than switch to an equally “problematic” firm mid-stream.
That said, I believe Pacifica should not use Jackson-Lewis since they go beyond representing evil clients in other cases and actually strategize and campaign against working class organizing. It’s really, though, a matter of degree of despicability. I am willing to make that recommendation to the powers that be (such as they are).
But the Board will respond (and they’ll have a strong point) that we will have to use one scummy law firm or another, due to the officers’ and directors’ insurance policy. As the unsigned KPFA Worker article knows—but raises the issue for polemical purposes anyway—once cases exceed the deductible (and most wrongful discharge/sexual harassment ones will), the only option is apparently a firm listed on the Court’s approved insurance company list. None of them will meet the standards you or I would prefer. We would just be switching from one asshole legal corporate firm to a different one. That’s what happens when we get sued and the case exceeds the deductible. We’re stuck.
Still, I think that the Pacifica Board needs to more carefully check the credentials of the firms it hires—again, it’s almost impossible to find one that has the resources to protect the network and that has not been involved in the sort of stuff that Jackson-Lewis is apparently involved in, but still, the Board has a responsibility to minimize contracting with such firms.
Furthermore, Pacifica should write a letter to Jackson-Lewis explaining why we will no longer avail ourselves of their services, and invite other not-for-profits to sign onto it.
Perhaps such a boycott would have a salutory affect on the policies of those wishing to do business with us, especially if we’re able to carve out space in that way for less-disgusting law firms to be added to the Court’s approved list. (Maybe we can even get them to bid for the privilege of representing us! Yea, yea, dream on, Mitchel.)
Feel free to add more information if you’ve got some, or to agree or disagree with what has been said. Comments that gratuitously attack Mitchel, or me, or anyone else, will be deleted from the thread. Comments with lots of URLs will sit in our spam catcher until we notice them.