Editorials from Community Radio News
Printed in Community Radio News, October 1996
Pacifica's Response to Charges of 'Unfair Labor Practices

This is in response to charges of unfair labor practices that are currently being leveled against Pacifica Radio

Our critics have focused their efforts on two main charges. They accuse us of union busting, of hiring "high priced" help to do so, and of selling out the roots of community radio. None of these charges are true or justified, The backdrop is programming change currently taking place at Pacifica stations around the country and the contract negotiations now underway with the UE (United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers) at two of our five stations, KPFK in Los Angeles and WBAI in New York. It is an inevitable fact of any such process that there will be differences of opinion across the bargaining table. Frequently we see these differences aired in public. That is what is happening here. In the course of doing our best to come up with a reasonable contract that is fair and equitable to all our employees, our critics have hunted for any opportunity to brand us as "union-busters."

Their main ammunition is a $1000 contract we had with a company, American Consulting Group (ACG) to advise us on some aspects of labor law, having nothing to do with the Union negotiations. Let me assure you that for a number of reasons, including the fact that we are very sensitive to union busting charges, we will not be working with ACG in the future.

It is true that the Pacifica management and the National Board of Directors support the removal of unpaid volunteers from the negotiating unit. This may be a debatable position, but it does not constitute "union busting." The inclusion of volunteers in a union bargaining unit is an anomaly practically unknown outside Pacifica.

Volunteers have legitimate interests, and we are developing policies and procedures to protect their interests. These do not include lifetime tenure on air. We must be able to change, drop and add programs to further the Pacifica mission and adapt to the changing needs of the community.

There is no plan to replace local programming with an automated satellite program service. We have been producing national programs since 1968 and will continue to do so. The satellite system allows for the distribution and sharing of programs like the news, Democracy Now, Jerry Brown and national election coverage.

At the heart of these attacks is the notion that we are selling out -- forsaking Pacifica's traditional progressive roots. What we see here is a replay of a time-honored Pacifica struggle for the "soul" of the community radio station. There is a very small group of former employees and volunteers who are searching for any opportunity to discredit the positive changes currently taking place at Pacifica Radio, Incredibly, they do not believe that building a radio station's audience through quality programming should be a priority. Rather, they hold the somewhat elitist view that community radio can survive today as a viable operation as long as there is one intelligent listener for one intelligent person, to paraphrase an early Pacifica idea.

Unfortunately, not only is this an elitist view, it is also not a practical way to run a radio station, especially Pacifica stations withstrong signals in very large metropolitan areas. This approach is also antithetical to Pacifica's other long stated commitment that I know you share -- to act as a leader for progressive social change, to empower and bring together all segments of our diverse community and to provide a voice for the disempowered and the disenfranchised. As long as we speak only to ourselves, we simply cannot fulfill this commitment.

And so as we approach our 50th anniversary, Pacifica Radio has embarked on a course to strengthen its foundation for the future. Our goal is to build a modern, relevant, effective, radio network that will challenge and impact the status quo. Our recent efforts have been well received by our listeners, supporters and donors. At all our stations, audience share has increased since we began making program changes last year.

I hope this letter helps fill in some of the details and context to this rather rowdy public debate that you are witnessing. In truth, the history of Pacifica radio is one of struggle, debate, criticism and self- criticism. And not always polite, either. We have been harsh on ourselves, simply because we are different from mainstream radio, and we want to stay that way. And we will continue to struggle to find solutions that will benefit our audience.

This is not about right and wrong. It is ultimately about good radio programming. And if you doubt that the changes we are currently making are good, do yourself a favor and tune in a Pacifica station. I am sure you will find, just as always, that we are providing outstanding, thoughtful and accessible progressive programming that will educate and interest.

from Community Radio News
January, 1997

This is in response to Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott's editorial in the October edition of the Community Radio News. I would like to clarify the issues and correct factual misrepresentations in Ms. Scott's piece.

The "backdrop" is that a small, unaccountable, self-appointed and self-perpetuating group consisting of Pacifica's National Board of Directors and Ms. Scott have decided "vast changes" are to occur within Pacifica. Whether these changes are necessary or desirable is a matter of considerable disagreement.

Pacifica's by-laws do not contain provisions for referendum on the policies or conduct of directors, the trumpeting of "Democracy Now" from the airwaves notwithstanding. Pacifica's current administration has made decisions concerning policy and finances behind closed doors; made by-laws amendments insuring lifetime tenure for adherents of those policies; and raised salaries of a small group of upper management officials while spending funds, secretly, to hire anti-union consulting firms to attempt to remove whatever vestige of worker protection and participation in decision making that may have existed.

The response of the Scott administration to others within the organization who question the appropriateness of these policies is epitomized by an excerpt from a memo sent to local station boards by the Executive Committee of Pacifica's National Board, on May 12, 1995:

"Members of any local Board who do not feel they can assist Pacifica in its present mission are advised to resign. If there are indications that actions are being taken collectively or individually to countermand policies, directives and mandates of the Pacifica board, the board will take appropriate steps."

Last May, I released a report which revealed Pacifica had at that time spent over 30 thousand dollars to fight its unionized workers at the station where I worked, KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, and Pacifica's two other unionized stations, WBAI-FM in New York and KPFA-FM in Berkeley. The Scott administration has denied these charges, asserting an implausible figure of "1000 dollars" spent on self-described anti-union consultants whose clientele includes Fortune 500 corporations, and who have provided legal representation at the National Labor Relations Board, drafted contract proposals, and in Los Angeles, provided a negotiator to sit at the table for 17 negotiating sessions, many of which lasted all day.

We have challenged Ms. Scott to prove us wrong by opening the books of the Pacifica Foundation to public examination. The only response so far has been ad hominem attacks on those asking the questions.

On November 21, at a public meeting of WBAI's local board, General Manager Valerie Van Isler revealed 32 thousand dollars had been spent in 1996 alone to fight the union at WBAI, in addition to 30 thousand dollars spent at other stations. So, over 60 thousand has been spent by the Scott administration to fight its own workers, many of whom have worked for years for little or no money. Meanwhile, at KPFK, the program guide has been discontinued for "financial reasons."

Bringing out the facts has not been easy. Those who attempt to raise these issues on the air, or off the air, have been forced out of the organization. Gag orders, which prohibit even the announcement of community meetings discussing these questions, have been issued.

Pacifica's National Board has held its previously open meetings behind closed doors for over a year and a half, and issued resolutions that Finance Committee meetings will be permanently closed to the public. Minutes of these Board meetings have also been declared "confidential documents." In fact, one of the "differences of opinion across the bargaining table" referred to by Ms. Scott, centers upon her administration's efforts to have any staff position which might get a look at the books removed from the collective bargaining unit, thereby ending what little oversight exists.

If the changes Ms. Scott and her Board are attempting to effect are indeed "positive" as she claims, why can they not be publicly discussed?

Documentation supporting statements made in this editorial is available on the World Wide Web at http://www.freepacifica.org or http://radio4all.org/freepacifica

Lyn Gerry
former staff member and UE shop steward
at KPFK-FM in Los Angeles

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