Fourteen members of KPFA’s union are responding with an open letter to management, after its disciplining of the three most successful KPFA fundraisers for their mention of a layoff. At the end of KPFA’s Winter Fund Drive last week, Pacifica’s executive director Arlene Engelhardt and KPFA’s interim program director Carrie Core sent a statement to KPFA staff and listeners — but not the traditional note of thanks to staff for their hard work and listeners for their generosity. It didn’t congratulate the News or Letters & Politics for record-breaking fundraising, or engage in a thoughtful critique of why new morning programming is failing, raising $140,000 less than its predecessor (see Fund Drive Fact Sheet). Instead, it was a misleading missive of cherry-picked financial information, misrepresenting the union’s position on the latest layoff and blaming workers for “undermining” the station. It haughtily announcing that “the former Morning Show will not return to KPFA.”
During the last hour of the fund drive, Core issued written disciplinary letters to news anchors Mark Mericle and John Hamilton, and Letters & Politics host Mitch Jeserich, for mentioning KPFA’s layoff of Hamilton on the air. The union is demanding to know whether Engelhardt and Core are reimposing a “gag rule” at Free Speech Radio. | SEE ALSO Trust Us, We’re Management!
An OPEN LETTER from 14 KPFA union members to Carrie Core and Arlene Engelhardt
Dear Carrie and Arlene,
As you know, KPFA’s staff have just been through a grueling three-week fund drive. During this fund drive, management was a virtual non-presence: no direction, no coordination, and most importantly, almost no contribution to the actual work (scheduling pre-emptions, securing premiums, editing tape, lining up match funds) of putting a drive on.
At the end of a fund drive, it’s customary for a station manager to at least send out an all-staff email thanking everyone for their efforts to make the fund drive a success, and asking programmers to remind their listeners to continue pledging online.
Instead, in the final hour of the fund drive, management sent disciplinary notices out to this fund drive’s three most successful fundraisers—Mark Mericle, Mitch Jeserich, and John Hamilton. Three days later, we all got a broadside attacking our union, and declaring that “The Morning Show Will Not Return.” The following morning, our listeners got an email from you that adds a charge that KPFA’s workers are “undermining” the station. (It wasn’t until later that night that staff received a grudging “thank you” letter.)
And, to support your position, you present cherry-picked data that completely ignores the fund drive we’ve just been through.
Let’s back up. In December, we had a one-week emergency fund drive that was an unprecedented success. The month before, Arlene had laid off the staff of KPFA’s most-popular local program and, on-air, blamed the change on KPFA’s financial situation. During that emergency fund drive, our listeners rallied to KPFA to an degree we haven’t seen since the early years of the Iraq War—every single timeslot at KPFA raised more than it had at any point in recent memory.
Why? Because they believed Arlene when she said the cuts were a matter of financial necessity, not political animus. The biggest gains in fundraising came where programmers appealed to people disturbed by the loss of the Morning Show. Philip Maldari came in to plug during his old morning timeslot to tell people that it’s still important to support KPFA. Mitch Jeserich told his listeners to pledge so that there’d still be a station standing for Brian and Aimee to come back to. Brian Edwards-Tiekert went onto the Evening News to ask people who support him and Aimee Allison to support KPFA so other workers wouldn’t lose their jobs. The timeslots where they made those appeals were the timeslots that raised the most money during that extraordinary fund drive.
Then you turn around, take those five extraordinary days of fundraising, compare them to the average of all fundraising for the prior year, and say “Look! We’re not raising any less money in the mornings.”
So, why aren’t you citing figures from the fund drive that just ended? The numbers are sitting on a computer 50 yards from where Carrie works. And here’s what those figures show:
Fundraising has dropped during every hour impacted by Arlene’s changes. The 6-10AM morning lineup raised $140,000 less than during KPFA’s last Winter Fund Drive.
Of course, we have multiple fund drives per year – at this rate, we can expect the pledge gap to approach $500,000 per year. That’s real money, and that’s real people’s jobs.
In your latest, you write: “The 7-9 am timeslot is the biggest fundraiser throughout public and listener-supported radio.” This certainly used to be the case at KPFA. So how do you account for the fact that 8:AM has dropped from being KPFA’s #1 fundraising hour, to #7 (out of only nine daily strips)?
We know it’s not because pledging is down across the board: Mitch Jeserich’s “Letters and Politics” raised $30,000 more than last year. The Evening News raised over $40,000 more than last year. The Grateful Dead Marathon raised $30,000 more than the year before.
Arlene: you said to our listeners on November 9th, and to union negotiators in late December, that if KPFA had the money, you’d rescind the layoffs.
Thanks in part to our fundraising surge in December, KPFA ended the first quarter of its fiscal year outperforming its budget by $290,000. Did you use that sudden windfall to reverse the layoffs that had so moved our listeners? No. Instead, you’re spending it on $400/hour employment attorneys to fight our union.
Supportive listeners organized, off-air, to raise $63,000 as a down payment for restoring The Morning Show. You could have worked with them. Instead, you canceled a meeting with them, stopped returning calls to re- schedule, and had them thrown out of your office when they showed up for an explanation.
Carrie: in January, you told a roomful of staff that you’d evaluate The Morning Mix quickly, and that this fund drive would be “determinative.”
We’ve just completed a drive where fundraising during the Morning Mix dropped to less than half of what it was during The Morning Show one year prior. Instead of a thoughtful review of what’s going on, we’re getting an imperious pronouncement that “The Morning Show Will Not Return.”
At this point, why should we believe anything either of you tell us?
When management said the Morning Show layoffs were in strict accordance with KPFA’s union contract, our union reps said they weren’t. And now you’ve been forced to reinstate Brian Edwards-Tiekert with backpay.
When management printed an editorial on Pacifica.org that accused our union of wanting to eliminate local programs at KPFA, our union reps told you it was false, and libelous – you were forced to issue a retraction and apology.
Now you say our union agreed to the layoff of John Hamilton. Our union representatives assure us they did no such thing; that when you tried to slip acceptance of his layoff into a settlement letter, they rejected it–and now that you’ve given him a layoff notice, they’re fighting it.
Why should we believe you?
More importantly: if you’re not contributing to our fundraising efforts, if you can’t earn the trust of your own staff, and if you’re going to accuse your staff of “undermining” the station in public emails – why should our listeners be bankrolling your management-level salaries during a time of scarcity?
Philip Maldari, Host, The Sunday Show Shop Steward, CWA Local 9415
Sasha Lilley, Co-Host, Against The Grain Shop Steward, CWA Local 9415
Mark Mericle, News Co-Director Contractual first Vice-President, CWA Local 9415
Laura Prives, Former Executive Producer, The Morning Show Staff Representative, KPFA Local Station Board
Mitch Jeserich, Host and Producer, Letters and Politics
Aileen Alfandary, News Co-Director
Phil Osegueda, Subscriptions Director
Miguel Guerrero, Web Producer
Brian Edwards-Tiekert, News Reporter former Co-Host, KPFA’s “The Morning Show”
Christopher Martinez, State Capitol Correspondent
Bob Baldock, Events Producer
John Hamilton, Co-Anchor, The Evening News
Chris Stehlik, Database Manager
Jan Etre, Crafts Fair Coordinator