BRINGING PEACE TO KPFA
by Akio Tanaka
KPFA LSB Member 2006-2012
Whenever there is a conflict, there is always an escalation in rhetoric, like the inflammatory charge that Pacifica was engaged in union busting. We should all tone down the rhetoric and address the real problems and concerns.
One major area of friction is programming. It stands to reason that a trade union looking after the financial security of its members will prefer programming which appeals to a more affluent, if progressive, audience. Also programmers with established shows will understandably be protective of their airtime.
But the mission of Pacifica is to be the commons of the airwaves, to represent a broader and more diverse community, to include the voices of the voiceless and marginalized.
Another area of friction is the working relationship between paid and unpaid staff. Until 1996 both were represented by one “industrial” union. In 1996 this was changed to a “craft” union that no longer represented the unpaid staff. This created a class system resulting in an uneasy working relationship between the paid and unpaid staff.
So what to do with these conflicting needs and interests? How does a union look after the financial security of its members in a non-profit organization that does not make profits and must live within a balanced budget?
The primary task of the station should be to fulfill the mission of Pacifica. The management and union should carefully work out a paid staffing level that is sustainable over the economic ups and downs, and avoid the temptation to add more people during the economic boom times as happened in 2001-2006. A sustainable paid staffing level would help address the one main source of anxiety and tension, funding. It could curtail the seemingly endless appeal for funds. It could put a stop to the unseemly practice of measuring the value of a program by the amount of money it brings in — a sad and ironic state of affairs.
The “Proud to be a Union” banner at the station is unnecessarily divisive and should be taken down. While the notion of workers’ rights resonates to all within the progressive community, it must be remembered that it is to respect and honor ALL labor, not just paid labor.
It is important to note that KPFA relies on a large number of unpaid staff; a majority of the programming is done by the unpaid staff. At KPFA there simply is not enough money to pay all those who contribute to the station. Progressive organization like KPFA should have one all inclusive union for everyone who works at the station, or have in place a system to treat all workers fairly and equally.
It is time for all the staff, paid and unpaid, and for listeners to embrace the democratic victory that was won for us in legal and street battles of 1999-2001. It is time to stop dividing the station. It is time for the paid and unpaid staff to work together to bring the best alternative programming to the air.
1. Listener Support: There has been a claim that changes to programming in fall of 2010 resulted in sharp decline in listener support. The audited financials shows that steep decline in listener support occurred between 2006 and 2010, before the change. Overall, listener support seems to reflect the state of the economy.
2. Salary and Benefits: There has been a charge that Pacifica usurped local control and engaged in union busting. The audited financials shows that between 2001 and 2006, under local control, the station added way too many people (the payroll more than doubled), but between 2006 and 2010, under local control, the station did not address the steep decline in listener support. By the fall of 2010, the station was in danger of insolvency, which is the only reason Pacifica stepped in, to bring expenses in line with income.
3. Payments to Pacifica: There has been a claim that Pacifica is taking too much money from KPFA and spending on excessive management salaries. The audited financials shows that Payments to Pacifica is pegged to the Listener Support, so when the Listener Support declined the Payment to Pacifica was reduced proportionately. Pacifica has a very flat salary scale throughout the network.