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How KPFA's Unpaid Staff Got Screwed, Blued and Tattoed - The Sad Story
by Know Your History
Thursday Sep 2nd, 2010 10:48 PM
The CWA swept into the wreckage after American Consulting group busted the paid/unpaid joint union: The United Electrical Workers.
From Rebels in the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America by Jesse Walker

Until 1997, the United Electrical, Machine and Radio Workers represented both paid and unpaid workers at the Berkeley and New York Pacifica stations. One wouldn't expect a network that most associate with the political left to have a serious dispute with its union, any more than one would expect Jimmy Swaggart to hire prostitutes or Pat Buchanan to drive a foreign car. So more than a few eyebrows were raised when dissidents charged Pacifica with hiring the American Consulting Group as its labor relations firm. The ACG was on the AFL-CIO's roster of union busters, and the contract it was advancing would decertify Pacifica's volunteer producers - 9/10 of the union. Of course, the less a station relies on its volunteers, the more positions are filled by people dependent on management's good will to pay the rent. It was this that prompted the network's labor disputes and not as many assumed a substantial disagreement about wages and benefits.

In February of 1997, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that WBAI in New York could not decertify its volunteers. Pacifica appealed the verdict and received a ruling more favorable to management in 1999. Meanwhile, after changing unions, KPFA adopted a contract that excluded volunteer staff.

David Bacon - The State of Our Unions 11-22-98

At local progressive media institutions, unions have generally held their own. The union at KPFA, which for years belonged to the independent and progressive United Electrical Workers, decided two years ago to affiliate with the Communication Workers. In the end, the union agreed to a new contract with significant wage raises. Unpaid staff were also excluded from the bargaining unit.

Workers charge Pacifica with union-busting Current, June 17, 1996

The network that aims to promote peace and social justice, whose logo is an olive-branch, and whose paid holidays include International Workers' Day is being accused of busting its unions. Pacifica Radio has hired a labor relations firm, the American Consulting Group (ACG), which the AFL-CIO says is a union buster.

This means wrenching control away from volunteers--many of whom have devoted decades to their stations and see volunteer participation as critical to the mission of community radio. They're not going gently, but the new labor contract proposed by Pacifica would make it harder for them to rage with any effect. The document removes volunteers from the bargaining units at KPFA and WBAI, New York.

The labor folks base their charges of union-busting on this attempt to decertify unpaid staff, who comprise about 90 percent of unit members, and on the involvement of ACG.

The California-based ACG would not return Current's phone calls, or provide literature about its services. But a 1990 photocopied ACG document provided by former KPFK employee and union steward Lyn Gerry is titled "Understanding and Defeating the Union Health Care Organizer." Much of it seems innocuous--analysis of unions' organizing strategies and advice about keeping workers contented. It also says: "Our firm has been involved in more than 700 union elections. . . We've been involved in at least three times that many union efforts that were neutralized. . . "

As at KPFA, WBAI unpaid staff are union members, with rights to a grievance procedure if they're dismissed, and representation on the programming council that advises the station. The new contract would decertify these unpaid staff, bringing WBAI's UE count down from about 200 to about 20, according to R. Paul Martin, chief steward. Though such a drastic reduction in membership would clearly weaken the local's leverage and make it pretty hard to strike, there is still a compelling issue of principle, according to another steward, Max Schmid. "It's a matter of giving due respect to people who produce the programming. They are as much a part or more so, of the station than the functionaries who are paid."

At KPFA in Berkeley the union has won a one-year extension of its existing contract. Although manager Marci Lockwood sent the unit notification that the contract would be terminated, she did not give the required 60 days notice and so was unsuccessful. In an open letter to management, union members question the appropriateness of paying "an antagonist" with listener dollars. "The appearances of anti-labor tactics employed by the most anti-union private corporations (consultants, union-busting contracts). . . signals an alarming direction in which KPFA's treatment of its own employees may soon be at drastic odds with the progressive values it attempts to bring to its airwaves."

LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
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TITLE AUTHOR DATE
KPFA unpaid staff and union representationloves KPFAMonday Jan 3rd, 2011 2:53 PM
i bet you only speak angloonragoumanFriday Sep 3rd, 2010 1:09 PM
Screwed, Blued and TattoedKnow Your SpellingFriday Sep 3rd, 2010 12:08 PM
Crux of the MatterKnow Your HistoryFriday Sep 3rd, 2010 8:58 AM
crux of matterJuttaFriday Sep 3rd, 2010 7:33 AM

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