Dear supporters of KPFA, community radio, and labor radio programming,
Two weeks ago the building crisis at Pacifica Radio reached a head when Nicole Sawaya, KPFA station manager, was fired. Sawaya was fired without "just cause" - actually without a reason at all. Pacifica Executive Director Lynn Chadwick just says she "wasn't a good fit." This is the kind of thing you say when you want to cover up the reason for something rather than explain it.
KPFA staff has been fighting for Sawaya's job because her firing highlights an acute problem at Pacifica -- the growing insecurity of jobs, people and programmers. Firing Sawaya was not just the bad action of an individual. Power has become concentrated in the hands of the Pacifica Executive Director. At the same time, Pacifica directors act as though they are not accountable for their actions.
In the last round of union contract negotiations, most on-air people in Los Angeles and Berkeley were made at-will employees. This means they can be fired at any time for no reason at all. This is what happened to Sawaya. At will employment is one of the worst and fastest-growing abuses of workers by corporations in the U.S.. To see it used by a progressive institution towards its own employees should be of great concern to anyone who values workers' rights. Insecurity, contrary to corporate philosophy, doesn't produce good programming through free-market competition. Good programming requires producers who have a long-term commitment to the station, to its listeners, and to their subject material.
At will employment was not a policy adopted by Chadwick. When Pat Scott was ED, these proposals showed up at the bargaining table nationally, at every union station. They appeared after Pacifica hired the American Consulting Group, a notorious union-buster, to strategize over demands it intended to push in negotiations. At will employment was obviously one of them.
This is the logical and predictable consequence of hiring union-busters, and adopting their philosophy of antagonism and confrontation towards the staff at the stations. Sawaya's firing reflects this attitude -- that no one should feel secure, and that the decisions affecting peoples lives can be made at the top with no accountability to anyone.
In view of the possible consequences to
them, the fact that paid and unpaid staff have made a public decision to
fight is a testament to their courage. In the last negotiations also, Pacifica
excluded unpaid staff from the bargaining unit in our station, KPFA, and
tried to do so in New York. One effect, obviously, was to remove
access to the grievance
procedure in situations like this, and to divide the unpaid from the paid staff. It is another testament to the people involved that they have chosen to fight together, paid and unpaid united.
Staff made the decision expose Sawaya's firing on the air. However, telling listeners the truth about what is going on in the stations is not just "airing dirty laundry." The stations are supposed to be accountable to listeners, who are supposed to have some voice in what happens. Listeners can't be involved if they have no information.
If listeners are not involved in the decisions
about what goes on inside the stations, it's not community radio.
Community radio demands accountability to the community -- to a defined
constituency who support
the stations financially and politically.
Pacifica management has substituted a philosophy
of looking at Arbitron ratings for accountability
to the real community that lies outside the station doors. It has
moved further and further from defining that
constituency, and giving listeners power over decision-making, while all the time accepting their money.
The gag rule needs to be reexamined.
It has become a shield, behind which Pacifica directors make questionable
decisions, both financially, and ones which violate the rights of staff.
The gag rule is used to keep information from being
passed to listeners, who should hold directors accountable for their
decisions. This practice goes along with the
increasing secrecy surrounding board meetings.
percentage of the resources contributed by listeners has been concentrated
in the national bureaucracy, which has grown alarmingly. While the
foundation provides some programming to the local stations, it doesn't
correspond to the percentage of funds it absorbs. Funds and resources
which should go to producing programming on a local level, tied more directly
to the community at each station, instead get tied up in an expanding bureaucracy.
Some of the expenditures, treated as confidential information to be kept
from listeners and contributors, have gone for
hiring high-salary consultants, who produce no programming at all.
Sawaya was fired for, among other reasons, demanding more financial accountability, and greater resources for the stations themselves.
If we want more local control, more powerful
local advisory boards, more democracy, and programming that's more accountable
to the communities around each station, then we have to figure out how
to use the airwaves to
communicate with them.
While it's come as a result of crisis, the staff have taken an important step in questioning the use of the gag rule -- an indispensible step towards giving listeners the information they need to actually make decisions.
It is important for progressive people nationally to communicate their concern as quickly as possible to the Pacifica board of directors, demanding the rehiring of Suwaya, and a more community-oriented structure and philosophy at Pacifica generally.
Please write or call as soon as possible to:
Lynn Chadwick, Pacifica Executive Director
1929 Martin Luther King Jr. Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
Dr. Mary Frances Berry, Chair
Board of Directors
624 Ninth St. NW, #700
Washington, DC 20425
Send copies of your letters to P.O. Box 12583, Berkeley, CA 94712, and I'll pass them on to station staff.
david bacon - labornet email david bacon
internet: email@example.com 1631 channing way
phone: 510.549.0291 berkeley, ca 94703