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KPFA-Pacifica Union History and Politics
Remembering the progressive missions and legacies of IWW labor organizer and working class song writer Joe Hill and Pacifica Radio founder Lew Hill. Highlighting, untangling threads of recent history/politics of Pacifica-KPFA workers unions, the industrial to craft unionism transition or coup underlying labor turmoil over 25 years, particularly differences/conflicts in union solidarity, representation or exclusion of unpaid workers. UEW industrial/inclusive vs. CWA craft/paid staff only unions, contracts and responses to the old Pacifica regime union busting strategy. 1997, 1999 NLRB decisions decertifying all unsalaried workers, and continuing consequences at KPFA: split-inequity of treatment, benefits and opportunity between union and unrepresented workers, blending of union and management, elite staff patronage/career culture and control, arbitrary terminations, lack of labor programming, manufactured labor dispute vs. excessive payroll and sustainable budget layoffs. Labor issues, "SaveKPFA" slate name contradictions and alternatives in the recent KPFA Station Board election.
KPFA-Pacifica Union History and Politics
by Bob English
Joe and Lew Hill (1879-1915) – (1919-1957)
IWW and Pacifica Radio
Joe Hill is the pen name of Swedish-American immigrant and renowned labor organizer with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the “Wobblies,” founded on the principle of One Big Industrial Union for all workers Traveling widely, he became a popular, visible writer of folk-union songs, performed at IWW strikes and rallies. His working class music informed and inspired Woody Guthrie, a primary influence on contemporary singer/songwriters, including Bob Dylan, Lead Belly, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, Utah Phillips, whose recordings and progressive commentary are featured in music programs on KPFA FM 94.1, especially “Across the Great Divide” Sunday mornings. (See related article “Joe Hill’s Last Will, 100 Years Later”)
Joe Hill original portrait by Austin English http://austinenglishart.com/
And her dress may not be very fine
But a heart in her bosom is beating
That is true to her class and her kind.
And the grafters in terror are trembling
When her spite and defiance she’ll hurl
For the only and thoroughbred lady
Is the Rebel Girl.
That’s the Rebel Girl, the Rebel Girl!
To the working class, she’s a precious pearl.
She brings courage, pride and joy
To the fighting Rebel Boy
We’ve had women [girls] before, but we need some more
In the Industrial Workers of the World.
For it’s great to fight for freedom
With a Rebel Girl.
“The Rebel Girl” by Joe Hill 1915
Despite continuing crisis, corruption and takeover attempts, Pacifica stations have deep community roots, as demonstrated in a 50th anniversary 1999 uprising that culminated in a 15,000 people march in Berkeley, supporting locked out KPFA workers and demanding democratic participation in Pacifica governing, policy and program decision-making, as well as “transformation” of station management, diverse staff relations and programs. As such Pacifica is a progressive community lifeline of vital interest and passion to staff, listeners and supporters, particularly hundreds active in the Free Pacifica and Save KPFA movements (1990s-2002, not to be confused with the recent, misnamed “SaveKPFA” slate).
But Casey Jones, the engineer, he wouldn’t strike at all;
His boiler it was leaking, and its drivers on the bum,
And his engine and its bearings, they were all out of plumb.
Casey Jones kept his junk pile running;
Casey Jones was working double time;
Casey Jones got a wooden medal,
For being good and faithful on the S. P. line.
Until Sept 1997 all programmers, producers and support staff at KPFA and WBAI were represented by the same radical industrial union, United Electrical Workers (UE). Under these UE contracts unpaid workers had significant rights and non-monetary benefits: recognized bargaining unit classifications, progressive discipline, termination grievance, modest childcare allowance, reimbursement of transportation and work expenses, use of office materials and utilities. As union workers they had a sense of teamwork, equity and respect, and were represented on the program council. At KPFK only salaried staff were represented by UE.
However, in the 1990s prior to hard won democratic reforms, the old Pacifica regime used a notorious union busting consultant (ACG) and strategy to consolidate power, divide and isolate station staff/unions by a) purging hundreds of volunteers and programmers, supposedly to “professionalize” the on-air sound per the “Healthy Station Project” and NPR models; and b) eliminating the 80-90% unpaid workers from bargaining units and contract agreements, as extensively documented, chronicled by Maria Gilardin (KPFA), Lyn Gerry (KPFK, Free Pacifica) and others
The Old Regime’s Legacy at KPFA – Maria Gilardin
Report from WBAI (Glib.com)
Chronology of a Crisis
The strategy worked perfectly, with crucial support from an unlikely source.
The new union negotiated a derivative of the ACG “Contract from Hell,” a sweetheart deal with management, including crippling prohibitions of strikes and workplace labor actions and management rights to fire newly hired programmers and hire low paid temp staff, which were traded for increased salary and benefits exclusively for paid staff: two-tier pay raises, job protection and pension plan. So the paid staff leaders not only played into the old regime union busting game plan but also received a pay off for their collusion.
From an IWW industrial union perspective/principle, craft/trade unions typically serve as exclusive job trusts for selected workers, while ignoring common interests of all workers or refusing to support/join other union labor actions; any labor organization that concedes representation of majority workers and the power to strike is not a working class union but acting like a "company union" or "scab" union.
But Casey said: “Let me alone, you’d better take a hike.”
Then some one put a bunch of railroad ties across the track,
And Casey hit the river bottom with an awful crack.
Casey Jones hit the river bottom;
Casey Jones broke his blessed spine;
Casey Jones was an Angelino,
He took a trip to heaven on the S. P. line.
When Casey Jones got up to heaven, to the Pearly Gate,
He said: “I’m Casey Jones, the guy that pulled the S. P. freight.”
“You’re just the man,” said Peter, “our musicians went on strike;
You can get a job a-scabbing any time you like.”
Casey Jones got up to heaven;
Casey Jones was doing mighty fine;
Casey Jones went scabbing on the angels,
Just like he did to workers of the S. P. line.
Unlike the KPFA-CWA staff who broke solidarity with them, UE workers at WBAI persistently fought back to preserve worker unity and inclusion. In February 1997 UE won a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision denying a Pacifica petition to exclude unpaid staff from the contract, instead upholding their job classifications and representation in collective bargaining.
However, this substantial victory and the basis for the UE workers struggle were soon undermined by the KPFA clique initiative to switch unions, excluding unpaid staff. In August 1999 the NLRB reviewed a second Pacifica petition and reversed the earlier ruling. As a result of unpaid staff being removed from the WBAI bargaining unit, UE was finally displaced in Oct 2001 by SAG-AFTRA, now representing paid staff only under separate contract agreements at WBAI, KPFK and WPFW. KPFT-Houston salaried staff are not unionized.
Not only Pacifica radio workers were impacted by that NLRB decision. By legal precedent it effectively decertifies and strips unpaid workers everywhere of the rights to unionize and form management recognized bargaining units/positions.
At KPFA there are other continuing, multiple disastrous consequences and actions following the craft union coup:
- The exclusion of majority staff replaced worker unity with an ongoing split and conflict of interests, culture and work relations.
- A “core staff” dominated patronage/career culture and job trust prevails.
- The line between union staff and management is blurred or erased (unlike the larger CWA unit at AT&T Oakland), with CWA shop stewards and officers in management positions, including Department heads and News Directors, supervising both union workers and excluded unpaid staff. This and other distortions of union-management structure, relations and objectives further enable the ruling staff clique to consolidate power and control of various, if not all aspects and decisions of station management, staffing, operations, work and program assignments, opportunities, air time and content.
- The large majority workers struggled to establish minimal representation through the Unpaid Staff Organization (USPO), dependent on arbitrary management/clique recognition and response. The Lemlem Rijio/Sasha Lilley regime, supported by “Concerned Listeners” (CL, later “SaveKPFA”), withdrew recognition of USPO.
- Without union rights to grievance and use of office resources, diverse programmers/volunteers, particularly African Americans, have been subjected to arbitrary termination and banning by management and the mostly white union clique. In Aug 2008 Berkeley PD officers were called in to brutally restrain Nadra Foster inside the station. JR Valrey was censored for on air comments critical of the management-clique power structure and released after an HR investigation of various staff complaints of workplace hostility, discrimination, and lack of opportunity/mobility
- While the “professional” paid programmers and producers have substantial budget allocations from listener support, unpaid programmers, although essential to fund drives, are no longer reimbursed for transportation, work and program production expenses.
- On supposedly progressive, CWA organized, pro-union KPFA, labor programming and support for local workers had been practically non-existent. Until recently with “WorkWeek,” originating on the former community based/staffed Morning Mix, labor news and interviews were confined to a 20-minute weekly segment of the clique produced Morning Show. As another example, CL representatives repeatedly blocked a Local Station Board (LSB) resolution supporting striking Berkeley Honda workers, effectively killing it until the strike ended.
- Although the ongoing Pacifica financial crisis requires substantial reduction of accumulated, unsustainable paid positions at all stations, 2010 budget layoffs of only two paid staff became a clique manufactured labor dispute with phony “union busting” charges and a boycott of prime time morning programs. Union staff refused to replace a clique star host or produce the Morning Show, shunned and declared a virtual picket of Morning Mix, and subverted their own contract provisions for layoffs by seniority. Incredibly, the supposedly pro-union CL/“SaveKPFA” LSB majority rejected a resolution to execute layoffs according to the CWA contract.
For Casey Jones to go around a-scabbing everywhere.
The Angels’ Union No. 23, they sure were there,
And they promptly fired Casey down the Golden Stairs.
Casey Jones went to Hell a-flying;
“Casey Jones,” the Devil said, “Oh fine:
Casey Jones, get busy shoveling sulfur;
That’s what you get for scabbing on the S. P. Line.”
“Casey Jones – The Union Scab” by Joe Hill 1911
(A parody of “The Ballad of Casey Jones,” written during a nationwide walkout of 40,000 railway workers, including many in craft union railway brotherhoods)
KPFA Board Election 2015
In the 2012 and 2015 KPFA LSB elections, the United for Community Radio (UCR) campaign raised the issue of inequity of unpaid staff representation, treatment, benefits and program opportunities. The opposing $aveKPFA slate and anonymous KPFAWorker.org claim to support all staff but actually defend and rationalize the status quo, dismissing or minimizing the history of unpaid worker union inclusion and exclusion
They also claim to be the only pro-union candidate slate. However, $aveKPFA is actually associated with and supports the current union busting management at KPFK, new GM Lesley Radford. On her last day as interim Pacifica Director, Margy Wilkinson, a “SaveKPFA” candidate for reelection, appointed Radford from the KPFK caucus aligned with $aveKPFA, apparently her only qualification for the job as she has no radio or management experience. By targeting political adversaries, blanket pay reductions to half time violating the union contract, withholding pension contributions and union dues, Radford has created chaos and earned the antipathy of the entire staff. Her legal advisor in these actions is $aveKPFA honcho Dan Siegel. SAG-AFTRA has filed multiple staff grievances already being heard in arbitration and by the NLRB.
The CL/"SaveKPFA” political machine has continuously undermined democratic reforms to preserve the status quo and power of the dominant “entrenched staff” clique responsible for the station’s deplorable, inequitable union politics and membership.
However in the recent 2015 LSB election, KPFA members had a chance and alternative (selecting United for Community Radio http://www.unitedforcommunityradio.org/ and independent candidates) to clean house and begin to realize the democratic governance, community participation and programming envisioned by the original Save KPFA activists. (Voting ended Dec 4, results are pending.)
Essential, recommended KPFA-Pacifica labor documents, articles and chronicles (most referenced in this article):
The Old Regime’s Legacy at KPFA (Why Did the Staff Not Prevent the 10-Year Corporate Raid?) Seven Long Years 1992-99
Ten Years After The Hijacking Attempt
KPFA’s Working Majority Gets Screwed by CWA Job Tust
False History: Current Myths About KPFA And Its Union
Chronology of a Crisis
Pacifica Against Its Workers
Union Busting, Pacifica-Style
Playing The Union Card Exposed
The Patronage Culture at KPFA
Bringing Peace to KPFA
Stealing Save KPFA