Pacifica Battles Blacks and Labor
by Per Fagereng, Portland Free Press, July 1996

For a network that prides itself on being part of the progressive community, Pacifica Radio is making enemies in strange places. Its program changes had already angered many people on the Left. Now Pacifica is fighting African-American activists and organized labor.

Labor Troubles

Pacifica owns five radio stations and has union contracts at three of them--WBAI)New York), KPFK(Los Angeles) and KPFA(Berkeley).

This spring the KPFA union (United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers, local 1412) wrote an open letter to Pacifica and station management. The union said it would not negotiate on a new contract but would work unde a one-year extension of the existing contract, for the following reasons:

1)Management had tried to terminate the old contract before negotiation. This unprecedented move failed because the union was not given proper notice.

2)Management had hired a labor consultant to negotiate with the union, another unprecedented move. The consultant was paid with funds raised by the staff to further the station's progressive mission. Local 1412 said the same consultant was impossible to deal with at KQED in San Francisco.

3) Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott had hired an Orange County labor consultant to draft a model contract for all three unionized stations. The contract "would virtually decertify the KPFA union" by excluding supervisors and on-air people, leaving only a handful of members.

According to Local 1412, these moves add up to an attempt to bust the union.

Here we might ask, "How can a union bargain for volunteers who get no pay?" I think the answer is that volunteers are still concerned about their working conditions and the possibility of getting fired for insufficient cause.

These charges are echoed by an article in The City Sun, a black newspaper in New York. In what the paper calls a "shocking betrayal of its long-time-on-air stance," WBAI management has made the following demands of the union:

*Remove 90 percent of the bargaining unit
*Reduce paid holidays
*Cut time limits on filing grievances, a dozen of which are now pending
* Create a new class of temporary workers not covered by the contract, with no limit on how long they can be temporary
*Water down WBAI's non-discrimination rules
*Water down health and safey provisions
*Make workers pay part of their medical premiums

According to Lyn Gerry, who was a shop steward at KPFK until she was fired, Los Angeles was where it began. The union had been bargaining with management since Fall 1994, working under a contract that expired in 1991 but was still in place.

In Novenber 1994, workers and management took pay cuts to avoid layoffs. The station's then-general manager offered to take a 50 percent cut, but Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott said no. According to Lyn Gerry, Scott wanted a greater pay gap between workers and management.

One person asked Scott about narrowing the pay gap, and says Scott replied,"That shit didn't work in Cuba and it ain't gonna work in Pacifica."

According to Lyn Gerry, Pacifica has hired a high-priced union buster----The American Consulting Group---and paid it more than $30,000. Scott says, "I find the allegations hurtful," and puts the figure at "more like $2000." Gerry replies that ACG charges at least $250 dollars an hour, that Pacifica had already spent $2000 by March 1995 and since then the firm has done a lot more work for Pacifica.

Pacifica is keeping company with the high and mighty. The American Consulting Group has done its work for many big-time corporations--Kraft, TRW, Nissan, Coca-Cola, SONY, du Pont, the LA Times and Union Carbide. It boasts of helping them "stay union-free since 1979." It advises clients to gather intelligence on their employees and fire "troublemakers" as soon as possible.

According to Lyn Gerry, KPFK's station manager has done just that---starting files on perceived foes and giving bonuses to others for "not getting in my face." (Schubb himself was once a member of the Screen Actor's Guild, and tried to get that union to expel Ronald Reagan for busting the air traffic controller's union.)

One way of getting in management's face is to speak out publicly. Pacifica has refused to allow programmers to report on station affairs, the so-called "dirty laundry" rule that was declared unconstitutional by a Seattle judge. At KPFK people have been fired and banned from the station for doing that (see PFP July/August 1995 issue for more on this).

African-Americans Fired

In August 1994, Republican Congressman Joel Hefly of Colorado threatened to cut "1 million in federal funding for Pacifica. Hefly didn't like he racial tone of some programs, which he said were "targeted particularly at Jews and generally at whites."

Pacifica then issued a directive that "racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic and misogynist programming has no place at Pacifica....and shall be grounds for removal" of whomever is responsible.

(It would be impossible for this observer to judge each program without hearing them. But we might ask, how were they dealt with? Were the accused given a chance to respond? Charges of offensive programming could best be aired at some kind of community forum and hopefully resolved.)

At the same time, Pacifica was aiming to make itself more "professional." Pacifica calls it better radio. Critics say it means centralized national programming, downsizing at local stations, pay disparities and general blandness.

One result is that at least nine people of color have been taken off the air at KPFK. They are:

--Ron Wilkins ("continent to Continent") taken off the air for discussing station affairs

--Karole Selmon, an arts programmer and archives employee. She read a critical statement at Pacifica's board meeting.

--Steve Conley, who sat next to Selmon.

--Astenu, a frequent program host who covered the ADL spy story.

--Kamal Hassan ("Family Tree"), accused of racism and anti-Semitism. He was banned from the station.

--Dedon Kimathi ("Freedom Now"). also accused of racism, anti-Semitism and banned.

---Nzinga Heru ("Hotep"), show cancelled and banned for being on Ron Wilkins program.

--Marcus Lopez ("American Indian Airwaves") show cancelled.

--Lorraine Mirza ("islamic Perspectives"), show cancelled.

Ron Wilkins is a long-time black activist in Los Angeles, from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the Sixties to the Patrice Lumumba Coalition now. He was on the Pacifica National Board for five years until 1990. For 12 years he was a programmer at KPFK until last February.

On his "Continent to Continent" program, Wilkins had as guests several black programmers who had been fired by KPFK. Wilkins says he had to sneak them in the back door.

Partway through the program, Station Manager Mark Schubb entered the air room and pulled the plug. The next day he fired Wilkins.

Karole Selmon was employed by Pacifica Archives, which shares the KPFK building. She also produced programs on the arts.

When Pacifica's board met in West Hollywood on March 10, Selmon read a statement charging "mistreatment" of African-Americans at the station (see sidebar). On March 27, she was fired by Archives Director Pam Burton and was also banned from the buiding by KPFK Manager Mark Schubb.

Burton said Selmon had been rude to Program Director Cathy Lo. Selmon says it was in retaliation for speaking out at the meeting, and she feels she was set up to have an argument with Lo.

A week earlier, Steve Conley, also African-American, as fired and banned. Karole Selmon says he had sat next to her at the meeting.

In April, the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission filed charges of discrimination against KPFK and Pacifica on behalf of Selmon and Conley.

Ron Wilkins says Pacifica and KPFK have become places of "paternalism, racism, paint-job lakeyism and white male chauvinism."

This reporter made several phone calls to Pacifica and KPFK, but the calls were not returned.

Unfinished Business

After the Pacifica national board held a mostly closed meeting in Houston last year, it was under investigation by Corporation for Public Broadcasting's inspector general. Then the investigator, Brian McConville, was fired by Inspector General Lester Latney, who took over the investigation.

During the last week of June, Latney went to Berkeley and met with Pacifica's Executive Director Pat Scott for the first time. They had previously only conversed on the phone.

Latney says the investigation is still in progress. He wouldn't give a date for its completion, but said I could call back before the end of July.

Four sidebars follow.

Mark Schubb Replies

Mark Schubb, station manager at KPFK, is incensed over charges made by Lyn Gerry. Her statement is "not accurate," says Schubb. "Her characterizations of me are not accurate."

He adds," When people put out lies and distortion I question their motives."

Schubb says the station fired people because they were rude and insulting," for behavior that would not be accepted anywhere." He calls the dissidents am "ugly, nasty club" that's angry because it is no longer running KPFK.

He says a small bonus was paid to employees "who went above and beyond duty I solving problems." As to Gerry's statement that bonuses went to people for "not getting in my face," Schubb calls it,"an utter lie."

On the labor front, he says The American Consulting Group is not negotiating with KPFK employees. Instead it is The Human Resources Center. (But in her report, Lyn Gerry calls The Center for Human Resources another name for The American Consulting Group.)

Schubb also expects a contract to be reached soon.

Regarding accusations of discrimination against blacks, Schubb says that of the people who lost programs, 70 percent were white and 30 percent people of color. The current programmers are 54% white, 22 per-cent African American, 19 percent Latino, ome percent Native American and four percent Middle Eastern.

Ron Wilkins was taken off the air for violating the "dirty laundry rule," which was declared unconstitutional in a Seattle case. But, says Schubb, that ruling applies only to a station run by the government (University of Washington) while KPFK is a private enterprise.

According to Schubb, KPFK's listener support is up 35 percent, with more pledges made in less time. He says listener support was $930,000 in 1995; for 1996, it's projected at $1.25 million.

A Reporter's Life and Death

Michael Taylor's life was a struggle. He spent four years on skid row in Los Angeles, homeless and on drugs. He overcame his addiction and became a radio journalist at KPFK. There he hosted an occasional program, "Community Forum," and covered the frame-up of Mumia Abu Jamal, now on death row in Pennsylvania.

Then Taylor, along with other black volunteers and employees, became disenchanted with the Pacifica station.

" I saw problems of covering certain items from the black community," said Taylor. "There was never really any interest taken; he [KPFK's news director] was always asking 'why would anyone be interested in that?'....We were supposed to have an interest in Bosnia and everything else but never an interest I ourselves."

When Pacifica's National Board held its meeting in a posh hotel in West Hollywood, Taylor marched outside with protestors. He formed a plan to operate a micro-powered radio station, and bought a broadcast kit from Stephen Dunifer from Free Radio Berkeley.

On April 23, Michael Taylor's body was found in a lot at Crenshaw Boulevard and 67th. He'd been tied up and shot. Three young men have been arrested.

Apparently the reason for the murder was a dispute over the radio equipment. The suspects, who may have put up the money, are said to have demanded the station for their own commercial purposes.

You could see this as a deadly echo of Taylor's problems with KPFK. His committment was to telling the truth as he saw it. When he felt shut out by KPFK he turned toward creating a voice that would be smaller but free.

It looks like others took away that voice too.

Did these Words get her Fired?

Here is the statement that Karole Selmon read to the Pacifica National Board. Seventeen days later, she was fired.

"Good afternoon. My name is Karole Selmon. I'm an apprentice graduate from the first apprenticeship program at KPFK in 1988. Since then I've produced over 200 programs for KPFK. At the present, I am no longer producing.

" I want to bring to your attention--and I hope you take this seriously--there is a mistreatment towards African-American programmers at KPFK and the staff. What I'm saying is that my job is in jeopardy because I'm also an employee at Pacifica Radio Archive. My title is Associate Producer of Non-Broadcast Distribution.

" But this is a serious problem we're having. And if you walk away today not taking note of what I've said, then you're very guilty because this is a serious problem. And many people are hurting. We have put in many, many years of our time because we love the station. But when we're mistreated, when we're dehumanized, then it's time to speak out.

"So please take mote of what I'm saying. There's a mistreatment of African-American programmers and staff. Thank you."

Pat Scott says Critics Unfair to Pacifica

On July 2, Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott issued a staement in response to charges of union-busting. The accusations, and Scott's reply, center on American Consulting Group, which has represented large corporations and promoted its "union free" record.

Scott made the following points:

--"American Consulting Group was never hired to negotiate contracts at any Pacifica station." It was only giving advice "on labor law and other matters."

--Pacifica's opponents are "using a six-year old brochure [by ACG] impugn out motives."

--"KPFA employees enjoy decent benefits and working conditions." They get five weeks paid vacation, 14 holidays, "fully paid health and dental insurance," 12 sick days, and retirement contibutions. Other unionized stations offer "comparable" beb\nefits.

---KPFK and WBAI are still bargaining.

"KPFA will do the same next year."