by Lyn Gerry
former staff member and UE shop steward
at KPFK-Fm, Los Angeles
The non-profit Pacifica Foundation, which operates 5 listener-sponsored radio stations nationwide, has retained the high-priced services of The American Consulting Group, (AKA-The Center for Human Resources and West Coast Industrial Relations Associates) an aggressive provider of a wide range of anti-union services. To date, the Foundation has paid more than thirty thousand dollars to ACG to fight the union at its Los Angeles station, KPFK-FM, a source inside Pacifica said.
The Foundation's Executive Director, Patricia Scott, has publicly denied charges of union busting on many occasions, maintaining the Foundation has not betrayed its progressive, pro-labor roots. ACG, however, takes pride in its credentials; one of its publications boasts "the firm has been involved in more than 700 union elections" and "three times that many union efforts that were neutralized." ACG has been involved in union busting activities from coast to coast, in virtually every industry.
The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, (UE) represents workers at KPFK-FM (Los Angeles), KPFA-FM (Berkeley, CA) and WBAI-FM (New York).
Since taking over as CEO in 1994, Scott has aggressively moved to eliminate opposition to her plan of corporate downsizing. Board meetings of the Foundation, required by law to be open to the public, have increasingly conducted business in closed session, which has drawn fire from community groups. Opponents believe the increasing secrecy is in part due to Pacifica's concern public disclosure of its tactics would alienate its politically liberal funding base.
KPFK-FM IN LOS ANGELES WAS UNION BUSTERS FIRST TARGET
In March 1995, Scott and Pacifica Board of Directors Chair Jack O'Dell, requested a meeting in Washington, D.C. with top UE officials. Chris Townsend, UE's National Political Action Director, who was at the meeting, reported Scott stated her intention to reduce the non-management work force by 25%. She also described the collective bargaining agreements then in place as "contractual impediments."
UE officials later told rank-and-file representatives, Scott and Odell (a long-time Civil Rights activist and key player in Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition) were attempting to persuade them to go along with give-backs in the name of "progressive" politics. Pacifica officials announced their downsizing policy would move forward immediately with a lay-off, due to "financial crisis," of union staff at the Los Angeles station, KPFK-FM.
The bargaining unit at the LA station had been in contract negotiations with KPFK's local management team since the fall of 1994. The unit's contract had expired in 1991 but was in place due to an evergreen clause and verbal assurances between workers and the previous Executive Director, David Salniker. Pacifica had repeatedly asked workers to delay negotiations, due to a "revolving door" of local General Managers at the station. The relationship between Labor and Management was largely amicable at that time, and workers agreed.
Both workers and management had taken a pay cut in November 1994 to avoid laying off a bargaining unit position, in accordance with UE contract provisions. Cliff Roberts, then General Manager at KPFK, had offered to take a 50% pay cut in order to lessen the economic hardship on his staffers, who in many cases earned less than twenty thousand dollars yearly. Scott would not allow him to do so, Roberts reported to staff. Workers were told Scott wanted a greater disparity between labor and management salaries than had previously existed at Pacifica. She did, in fact, raise the base manager salaries from forty thousand to forty-five thousand dollars, as well as giving herself a yearly increase of more than ten thousand dollars.
On January 5, 1995, Scott removed Roberts and two other management team members. The last of the original 4 person team resigned one month later. Contract negotiations were suspended. Sweeping changes to the station's programming were also announced, igniting controversy in the community.
A gag order, known as the "dirty laundry rule," was implemented by management. It prevented any presentation of views disputing management claims on the airwaves of the station that had, over the years, billed itself as "free speech radio." The gag order remains in place; those who have attempted to publicly raise these issues on the air at Pacifica stations, have been removed, and in some cases, barred from the premises. KPFK's management recently issued a memo informing personnel they would be removed from the air permanently FOR ANNOUNCING ANY PUBLIC EVENT WHERE THESE ISSUES WOULD BE RAISED.
When lay-offs were announced several weeks after the Washington DC meeting between Scott and UE, the union filed grievances and demanded financial records to support management's claim. The contract specified the union's right to analyze financial data and put forth a counter-proposal in situations of financial crisis. Management resisted providing complete information, which led to the local union filing a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which subsequently filed a complaint against Pacifica.
The union also charged that the alleged "financial crisis" was an attempt to restructure, and subvert the contractual provisions governing restructuring, and that workers slated for "lay-off" were targets of retaliatory termination. These individuals had publicly opposed Scott's policies, were personally disliked by management, or were viewed as "troublemakers." This was vigorously denied in public by Pacifica management, even as it was retaining the services of ACG.
UNION BUSTERS SAY, "CAN 'EM"
ACG routinely advises its clients, "If an employee's attitude, conduct or performance is unsatisfactory, do not wait to do something about it!" While their written material pays lip service to "help[ing] the employee make corrections," ACG President Fred Long is much more candid in his oral presentations to his clients. In a talk given in 1990, Long said, "Also you can 'can' a lot of people for conduct unrelated to their union activity....what if you have a permanent lay off and can justify a permanent lay off [which] means.... there is no reasonable expectancy they will be employed in the foreseeable future." Since January of 1995, KPFK's bargaining unit has been reduced from 19 members to 8. Those who were not fired or laid off, quit.
Robert Meulenkamp, a union organizer quoted in Martin Levitt's book, 'Confessions of a Union Buster' said, "...most of the people [at a workplace] have no experience with violence, with being lied to, with manipulation, with being harassed in open, gross, insulting ways. The first time this program happens to regular people, they're terrified....union busters know this."
POWER STRUGGLES MAKE FOR STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
In a promotional video, a well-scrubbed pitchman advertises how ACG has been helping companies "stay union-free since 1979." A list of satisfied clients rolls over his dialogue, including Kraft, Inc., TRW, Nissan, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Sony, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, Dupont and the Los Angeles Times, exemplars of corporate America whose conduct is so frequently criticized on Pacifica's airwaves.
KPFK was chosen as the first target. Long standing ethnic antagonisms, employees hungry to climb the ladder in Radioland, and volunteer programmers fiercely guarding their on-air turf made the station vulnerable to a divide and conquer strategy. Unlike most businesses, 90% of the actual personnel are unpaid. At KPFK, unlike the Berkeley and New York stations, these unpaid staff members were not covered by the contract, thereby providing management with a trained pool of replacement workers.
Emboldened by success in Los Angeles, Scott and her union busting cronies have now turned their baleful eyes on the Berkeley and New York stations. It is no coincidence one of their first salvos was to file a petition with the NLRB to have unpaid staff excluded from future contracts. If management can successfully drive a wedge in the membership this way, they will gain considerable advantage. In the event of a labor action, the union will then have to win the support of the hundreds of station volunteers one by one, without being able to offer them even the slim legal protections the law provides to union members. This was one of the difficulties the union at KPFK faced in considering a walk-out; there, a "sick-out" was chosen instead.
ACG promises clients a "customized" approach to each employer's specific situation. Marty Levitt has described the union buster's craft as "smoke and mirrors." KPFK's recent on-air pledge drive was a grotesque illustration of this, as such staunchly pro-labor organizations as The Nation Magazine, Jerry Brown's "We the People", The National Lawyers Guild and activists from Service Employees International Union (SEIU) went on air to, presumably unwittingly, solicit contributions from their pro-labor audiences, destined for the coffers of the defenders of corporate privilege.
Make no mistake; ACG is well paid for its services. Filings with the Department of Labor for the year 1992, show over three quarters of a million dollars worth of billing by ACG. This represents a fraction of their actual income. Martin Levitt has written that the Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959, which mandated reporting of anti-union "persuader" activities, is so narrowly construed as to allow most union busting activity to go legally unreported.
To bust a union while maintaining an unsullied public image as "champions of the underdog" must have provided a refreshing challenge to ACG's "Masters of Illusion." Scott needed a shill who could talk the progressive line, present credentials that would persuade the progressive community that "Pacifica was still the only game in town," while, behind the scenes, ruthlessly implement her slash and burn strategy. People will go to extremes for a hunk of the airwaves, as Michael Taylor's deeply, deeply tragic murder has so recently illustrated.
FROM LABOR ACTIVIST TO UNION BUSTER
Scott found her man in the person of one Mark Schubb, who was hired in June of 1995 on a short-term contract as KPFK's new "acting" General Manager. Enter Mr. Schubb, a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), who had leftist credentials and an appetite for control.
Schubb, and his history, would have made an interesting case study for the same social scientists who researched the psychology of concentration camp commandants. Prior to his hire by Scott, he did a stint as a producer for Jim Hightower's radio talk show in Texas. Before that, he was the director of the Los Angeles branch of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), an organization that critiques and analyzes media from a leftist perspective.
With mirrors positioned and the smoke machine cranking, Schubb has publicly presented himself as a labor activist. He has cited his work with the SAG Legislative Committee and his attempt, in 1981, to have Ronald Reagan's lifetime membership in SAG revoked as censure for busting PATCO, the air traffic controllers union, as evidence of his strong support of Labor. Schubb was quoted in Variety on 8/20/81, "With the name of the Screen Actors Guild, Mr. Reagan has sold himself as a union man. To the contrary, in his handling of the PATCO labor dispute, Mr. Reagan has acted at each turn of the conflict to discredit and ineffectualize the collective bargaining power of the air traffic controllers....HIS CONDUCT AS A UNION BUSTER AND HIS FREQUENT REFERENCES TO HIS SAG ASSOCIATION HAVE CREATED THE CLIMATE FOR THE ALIENATION OF THE AFFECTIONS OF OUR SISTER UNIONS TOWARD THE SCREEN ACTORS GUILD. THIS CLIMATE WEAKENS OUR STRENGTH AS A UNION." (emphasis mine.)
One cannot but wonder if the treatment the young Mark Schubb received from his SAG sistren/brethren, as the result of his proposal, left him with a bitter taste for Labor. Not only was his motion overwhelmingly rejected by SAG's board; he was personally raked over the coals in the press by his fellow members, including such influential figures as Clint Eastwood.
At the time, Schubb was running for office in the union. Within a week, he was "disqualified" from candidacy on a technicality. Blacklists still exist in Hollywood. Perhaps as a result, Schubb's acting career never really took off.
ACG TACTICS: LIES, BRIBES AND INTIMIDATION
Some of ACG's promotional material, geared toward health care providers, stresses the importance of turning the employees' dedication to and pride in their profession into a union busting tool. Health care workers and Pacifica employees have certain psychological similarities: work with a "mission," a desire to improve the human condition, and the sense of "serving" their clientele. A comparison of ACG tactics used against health care organizing efforts with those used at Pacifica is illuminating.
A large portion of ACG's work for health care employers involves customized audio visual presentations to workers to persuade them not to vote for a union. Sonia Mosely, Executive Vice-President of The United Nurses of California (UNAC) described what was done at Victor Valley Hospital in California: employees were shown videos utilizing actors who were portraying UNAC as only concerned about members' dues, scenarios of personnel arguing in the hallway about whose job it was to do something while, presumably by inference, patients expired off-screen. The film ended with upbeat music and their colleagues smiling and waving at the camera, as if they were endorsing the tape's content. Mosely said she received complaints from workers there who were not told their images would be used in this way. All employees, upon hire, signed a waiver allowing them to be photographed for marketing and publicity purposes.
In the mock negotiating sessions staged for these videos, as well as ACG's written material, the "union recognition clause" (contained in every contract), is portrayed in a nefarious light. This attack on the recognition clause has specific resonance in the situation at Pacifica.
THE UNION CONTRACT FROM HELL
ACG was asked to write a new contract for the 3 stations. What they presented was a document that, if ratified, would effectively neutralize the union yet enable Pacifica management to publicly avoid the union busting stigma.
The recognition clause, which defines whom the union represents, is a major "contractual impediment" to Pacifica management's aims. Currently, UE contracts cover all non-management personnel, including those few who are paid to be on-air. Pacifica has, in the past, relied largely on volunteers as its on-air hosts, and paid for those administrative and technical tasks essential to daily operations that could not be done effectively by occasional volunteers.
Scott's plan for the "New Pacifica" involves a "professionalization" of the air, utilizing "talent" and having the means to pay what is required to woo it, and the flexibility to make changes at a moment's notice. Currently, all workers receive the same rate of pay, with increases for seniority and department head status. All employees are protected by seniority and progressive discipline clauses, and even if a worker was removed from the air, they would be entitled to bump a member of lesser seniority from another position, assuming they could, "with reasonable training" fulfill the job description.
The issues are emotional. To further its position, Pacifica is using its own version of the "dead patient" scenario. The broadcast is a radio station's product or service, if you will. The fulfillment of the mission of the organization is embedded within it; the economic survival of the organization hinges upon it. Everybody on both sides knows this.
Management's strategy is to persuade the larger contingent of behind the scenes personnel to cut loose the on-air people for "the good of the station" and, by inference, the guarantee of an air-sound that will keep the dollars flowing from the audience, and the paychecks coming. In addition to the economic argument, there are covert psychological dynamics which management will attempt to exploit, but never refer to openly. These are: 1) everybody working at Pacifica stations is intelligent, listens to the radio, and has their own ideas about quality and content, 2) most everyone is displeased with someone who is on the air and 3) many of the people who are not on the air, are frustrated because they would like to be on the air -- more so if they could be paid for doing it. Some are resentful because they feel they could do a better job than those now paid to do it.
What management doesn't want the off-air personnel to think about is this -- to the community, the on-air personnel are the station. Should the union be forced into a labor action such as a strike or walk-out, if they can't take the air with them, they can't effectively shut down operations. When the workers at KPFK did a one day "sick-out" last spring, it was the participation of on-air staff, and the support of on-air volunteers (who are not union members at KPFK) which enabled us to garner media attention and publicize our grievances. As a shop steward, I was the press contact. Every reporter wanted to know "who was not going to be on the air that day in support of our action."
ACG stresses intelligence gathering to assess the sympathies of each employee, determine their vulnerabilities and evaluate their potential threat. Upon arrival at KPFK, Schubb announced he would be meeting individually with each staff member. This was presented as a "get to know you" kind of thing; however, certain staffers, who had already been labeled by Scott as undesirables, were never invited to such a meeting. Co-workers were questioned as management sought material to develop a "paper trail" on "troublemakers."
A friend of Schubb's from FAIR, Lisa McCready, was brought in to go through confidential files as well as report on public meetings where issues about Pacifica were being discussed. She soon became known as his "spy." Schubb started files on "troublemakers," which he kept on his worktable, near at hand.
Singling out employees for positive treatment was also a tactic employed -- at the end of the station's fiscal year, 5 employees were secretly given bonuses for, in Schubb's words, "not getting in my face." While the amounts were comparatively small, five hundred dollars at the most, the discovery of them had a divisive effect. Bonuses were something very rarely seen at KPFK. Policy was, at any time they'd been given in the past, to give them to all staff in recognition of their contribution to the station, as opposed to their relationship to the manager's "face."
This type of strategy has been effectively employed by union busters in more conventional workplaces. ACG was involved in an anti-union campaign at Charter Hospital in Paramount, CA in 1992. ACG's official materials are careful to caution employers against violating the law, which prohibits intimidation of workers. Again, ACG president Fred Long speaking candidly, "you got to remember you only lose once. What happens if you violate the law? The probability is you will never get caught.... I am not suggesting you are stupid about these things. You damn well better get somebody that can help you and give you the calculated premeditated preparation you need..."
ACG provides a form, called an "Employee Assessment Tool," to be given to supervisors who are asked to rate workers from 1=team player to 5=troublemaker, whether they are perceived by colleagues as 1=follower to 5=leader, and to describe their professional and personal strengths and weaknesses. At Charter, pro-union workers claimed these dossiers had been used to blackmail and/or bribe pro-union workers into changing their votes. They alleged, in one particularly egregious case, a Filipino male nurse was bribed.
This nurse was known to moonlight at another hospital, and had on some occasions called in sick at Charter to work his other job. He was allegedly given the choice of termination or, if he would agree to persuade other Filipino workers to vote against the union, to receive a ten thousand dollar "bonus." While this was never proved, workers reported getting calls from this individual at home urging them to vote against the union, while he publicly maintained a pro-union position until the day of the election. The union was defeated, and the nurse was fired several months later.
ACG's Long also tells his clients to take advantage of the fact that those giving false testimony in NLRB proceedings can not be prosecuted for perjury. One strategy he suggests is the creation of phony, back-dated memos. These become significant during subsequent legal proceedings where building a case hinges on chronologies and documentation; the paper trail becomes the official version.
At KPFK, General Manager Schubb tried to create the impression he was a reasonable man trying to bargain with an uncooperative union. For example, he issued a memo to the contract negotiators, reprimanding them for arriving late to a session, for which he'd made room in his busy schedule. The memo laid the blame for the lack of progress on the union. In fact, Schubb cut the session short, claiming he was out of time, due at another appointment. There was no other appointment; he had arranged a phony telephone call to be routed to his office at a predetermined time.
ROLE PLAYING THE VICTIM, CAPTURING THE AUDIENCE
ACG helps management develop propaganda to scare workers with the spectre of violent confrontations arising from union activity. In one video, a montage of newspaper clippings with headlines screaming of injuries and arrests resulting form strikes is shown to health care workers. UNAC organizers said, in one campaign, the hospital administrator began walking around the hospital surrounded by bodyguards, claiming she had received death threats. Union organizers said this was without basis and was part and parcel of the illusion the union busters were trying to create.
At KPFK, Schubb wrote a memo for the files claiming he fled a meeting in fear of his life, escaping assault by a "psychotic" community member, and the shop steward's (yours truly) attempt to "incite a riot" (presumably for the purpose of tearing him limb from limb). Witnesses have provided signed statements that not only refute his assertions, but prove he was not in the room when certain things were allegedly said to him, and that he subsequently returned to this "life threatening" meeting voluntarily. Workers fighting such union busting tactics should keep detailed written records of events as they happen; memories get hazy over the months or years it takes to get into court and the written "paper trail" becomes "reality."
ACG stresses to its clients the advantage they have in the "captive audience meeting" where they may compel attendance and use the time for anti-union propaganda. At KPFK, Schubb turned the weekly staff meetings to this effect.
In the past, staff meetings had served as a forum for discussion and announcements, and had a rotating chair. No distinction was made between management and labor. As the staff grew, the meetings got longer. It was decided in 1994, that only department heads be required to attend. Most staff felt the meetings were a waste of time, though on occasion some spirited discussion took place. Schubb insisted all attend these meetings and make them a priority over other duties.
Schubb chaired the meetings and did most of the talking. He allotted a segment of the meeting for a "union report" delivered by him. He used this opportunity to take swipes at the union, to attempt to goad union members into compromising statements, and to display their differences of opinion in front of management. The thrust of his presentation carried the implication that union leaders were somehow keeping members in the dark about something. If this type of thing is occurring at WBAI (New York) and KPFA (Berkeley), I strongly advise workers there to nip it in the bud.
To the people within Pacifica who still deeply believe in the ideals that created it: this is a preliminary investigation, the tip of the iceberg. I urge you to look into the matter further, and if you are revolted by what you discover, take the appropriate action.
To the community organizations who rely on Pacifica's airwaves to reach people: you are an integral part of the organization. You have a right to ask questions and get answers. If you discover activities which, by association, impugn your integrity, do something about it.
To the listeners and subscribers by whom and for whom this organization exists: demand accountability.
To the brethren and sistren at WBAI and KPFA: I am sure that most of you, as I, became involved with Pacifica because of a deep belief in its mission and the hope that you could make a positive difference in the world by working there. Be clear, an organization that betrays the principles it preaches loses both its credibility and, ultimately, its soul. Remember that in your struggles, especially when you are accused of trying to destroy it.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be treated with dignity and respect, both as a person and in your work. This is fundamental to progressive ideals, that claim this birthright for all, not just an elite group.
I know from experience the painful dislocation you are experiencing as a result of Pacifica management's union busting tactics--just when you thought you knew who the "good guys" were. If you have members who are collaborating with management, you must confront them openly--we didn't do this at KPFK for fear of disunity and it festered.
If you want to succeed, you must confront your internal differences head on and resolve them so you can present a united front. Create your own mechanisms for internal dispute resolution.
Defend each member as if they were your sister or brother--that is after all, basic to the principles of unionism.
The writer wishes to thank the many labor organizations and individuals who shared their experiences and information with me.
Return to Document Archive Contents