Members of KPFA’s union have discovered that Pacifica appears to be underpaying the 403(b) retirement accounts of its paid workers, which is a violation of federal law. When employees received their quarterly statement from the 403b provider ING, they noticed that Pacifica had taken money out of their paychecks but had not put the money into their pensions during half of the weeks recorded.
It appears that Pacifica may have been misappropriating funds from KPFA’s workers for the past year and half – not depositing money some weeks. Employees at the other four Pacifica stations also have 403(b) plans, but it is not yet clear if Pacifica has dipped into those accounts.
On Tuesday, October 18, two members of KPFA’s union went to inspect the records for a separate pension maintained by Pacifica, a right which is guaranteed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. They were provided information by a Pacifica employee.
Yet that evening, those two KPFA workers received terse emails from Pacifica executive director Arlene Englehardt and KPFA interim general manager Andrew Phillips demanding the documents back, stating they contained confidential information and making veiled threats of legal action if the documents were shared with others.
A form of wage theft, says union
Christina Huggins, who is first executive vice president of KPFA’s union CWA Local 9415, contacted Pacifica’s Arlene Engelhardt and Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams about the missing deposits. Although Engelhardt and Williams had stated they would look into the matter, they have not contacted Huggins since.
The following Friday, Huggins sent a letter to the Pacifica National Board, which is made up of elected members from each of the five Pacifica stations. “This is a form of wage theft, and it is a very serious matter,” Huggins wrote. “The scope of this problem is large: We have seen this pattern for every employee whose records we have been able to check. With employees who’ve maintained good filing systems, we’ve been able to identify similar problems as far back as a year and a half ago. And it is our understanding that Pacifica provides the same 403(b) plan to employees network-wide — which means this may be a problem that affects every Pacifica station.”
Huggins added, “I’m writing to you as fiduciaries of the Pacifica Foundation, because what we are dealing with is looking less like an error and more like a pattern: Missing payments, lack of transparency, hostility to employees who ask financial questions, unwillingness to release basic financial documents. These are classic warning signs of financial mismanagement and/or internal fraud.”
KPFA’s union notified Pacifica of the problem two weeks ago, and Pacifica has still neither 1) responded to the union, or 2) notified the affected workers.