Arlene Engelhardt is the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation. Following my last post on labor relations at the five station listener supported radio network, I invited Arlene to offer her own perspective. She has sent us this commentary, which I reproduce unedited here. —Matthew Lasar
Pacifica respects our workers’ rights to union representation and we deplore “union busting” wherever it occurs—and it WILL NOT occur at Pacifica on my watch.
We also expect Pacifica’s KPFA staff to act, speak and report with integrity and professionalism when they have disputes with management. In that expectation I have been deeply disappointed since I came to Pacifica in December 2009.
For the past 18 months “KPFAWorker” and “SaveKPFA” have put out a relentless barrage of distortions, half-truths and outright falsehoods intended to whip up a frenzy—with no middle ground, no nuance, no room for exploring and resolving the multi-faceted problems facing KPFA and Pacifica.
Their most recent blast is that Pacifica’s hiring the Jackson Lewis law firm is “a declaration of war on the unions that represent Pacifica workers.” This is an incendiary falsehood. Pacifica has amicable relations with all our employees’ unions except CWA local 9415 at KPFA.
Jackson Lewis was first hired in 2010 to handle only litigation and is not involved in union relations at Pacifica at all.
After several seriously mishandled lawsuits, Pacifica desperately needed a competent employment litigation defense firm. Jackson Lewis was hired from a list of firms approved by our insurance carrier. They have provided legal defense in five lawsuits around the network, including four brought by former management employees, and have handled two arbitrations at WBAI. Three cases are still pending including one at KPFA. Our insurance deductible for each case is $125k—more than 2 employees’ salaries and benefits for one year at KPFA.
In every case, Jackson Lewis has saved us money by working at reduced rates and handling matters efficiently while looking for reasonable early settlements. In addition, they recently agreed to a retainer for 4 hours/month at greatly reduced rates to assist us with non-litigation matters. The amount of litigation around Pacifica is a disgrace that comes from years of extremely destructive factionalism.
It’s up to the Pacifica National Board, but I have advised them that terminating Jackson Lewis would be reckless and expensive. Changing lawyers in mid-litigation is dangerous. The stations would have to pay new lawyers to get up to speed. Our insurance company may penalize us for it. They have done an exemplary job. And they are NOT engaged in “union busting” for Pacifica.
Concerning Other Recent “KPFAWorker/SaveKPFA” Charges — Context Matters
Ten years ago, through extraordinary efforts by Pacifica’s listeners, Pacifica was saved from a “corporatizing” board of directors. Their intent was to “NPR-ize” Pacifica and tone down its more radical programming.
When the new board of directors took over in January 2002 Pacifica was bankrupt. The former Executive Director had drained all five stations’ bank accounts—including about $1.4 million from KPFA—to pay lawyers, PR firms & private investigators to fight the “Free Pacifica” movement. Pacifica was over $4 million in debt and had no cash.
Through the extraordinary generosity of our listeners, Pacifica recovered and paid off its outside creditors between 2002-2005.
For the first few years there was an air of excitement & victory that enlivened Pacifica. New programs were brought to the air. Elected local and national boards and program councils including listeners were established for the first time. But for some these were unsettling intrusions.
The tide turned around 2006-2007. Faction fighting at all five stations took its toll. The spirit of collaboration and openness faded and programming became stagnant. Media activism on the internet began to displace Pacifica, as we were not keeping pace with innovations.
Pacifica‘s overall listener support dropped 23%—from $13.8 million for fiscal year ending (FYE) September 30, 2006 to $10.6 million for FYE 2010. KPFA’s listener support dropped 27%—from $4.0 million for FYE 2005 to $2.9 million FYE 2010.
KPFA, WBAI and WPFW have been running seriously in the red. KPFA lost $1.5 million in the four years from FYE 2007 through FYE 2010, while Pacifica as a whole lost $5.5 million. Stations have met their payrolls by not paying their share of network-wide expenses (Central Services)—for Democracy Now!, the Pacifica Radio Archives, our insurance, our auditors, etc. Stations have also used the National Office as a “bank” to advance sums for their expenses—health premiums, legal expenses, pension fund contributions, etc. As a result, Pacifica national is carrying almost $3.4 million in accounts receivable from the stations, and $1.3 million in debts to outside creditors. This cannot continue.
If KPFA and Pacifica are to survive, then people must work together to solve our problems. KPFA’s programming must be revitalized. I’m proud of the work this past year of many people at KPFA in extremely difficult circumstances—especially the volunteers at the “Morning Mix” and the interim Manager and Program Director, Andrew Phillips & Carrie Core. They are bringing in new voices and perspectives and building new audiences for KPFA.
But at the same time “KPFAWorker/SaveKPFA” is driving away listeners and donors with their constant negative campaign. Many listeners are sick of it and tuning us out and finding more positive things to support. A media revolution is underway. The Occupy Movement is demanding and creating it. KPFA & Pacifica can either open our doors and be a hub for it, or sink in our own mire.
I do believe regeneration is possible. I call on everyone to put down their swords and find ways to solve our problems together.
Feel free to respond to Arlene Engelhardt’s post. Gratuitous and expletive laden attacks will be cheerfully deleted. Commentaries filled with URL links will sit in our spam queue until we notice them. —Editor