Two months after KPFA’s union discovered that the station’s parent corporation Pacifica was illegally raiding the 403b pension funds of its union members for as long as 18 months, the network has finally admitted to workers that “during the past few years employee contributions . . . were not deposited into your accounts on a timely basis.”
The pension contributions come from employees’ own earnings. Pacifica had been deducting money from paychecks but not always depositing it in individuals’ 403b accounts, a violation of federal law and a form of wage theft.
When the union made the pension scandal public in early October, Pacifica Treasurer Tracy Rosenberg (who also sits on KPFA’s local board and is facing a listener recall campaign) posted a letter from Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt erroneously claiming that just a single monthly payment had been missed and fixed. Rosenberg’s post hysterically accused those who raised questions of “bald faced lies” and even “destabilising radical radio.”
But union members had checked their pension statements and had evidence that the situation was much more serious. Last month, KPFA union steward Philip Maldari wrote the Pacifica National Board for a second time, stating “The diversion of retirement funds deducted from the participants’ pay checks is fraud.” He noted that the he had still not received a reply from either Engelhardt or Pacifica Chief Financial Officer LaVarn Williams. “The Pacifica ED has stated on several occasions that the finances of the Foundation would be in much better shape if there weren’t so many legal battles to fight,” wrote Maldari. “I agree. But there would be no need to hire lawyers and fight legal battles, if the Pacifica ED and CFO obeyed the law.”
Maldari stated on behalf of the union, CWA Local 9415, that KPFA’s paid workers expected to be “made whole,” that Pacifica guarantee that this not happen again, and that there be consequences for those who broke the law.
Pacifica (finally!) sent employees a “correction statement” in December admitting that 403b contributions were not deposited, but disingenuously claiming it was a “misunderstanding” and that Pacifica had not realized that it needed to deposit money withdrawn from its employees’ paychecks by the 15th of every month.
“This is alarming enough,” said one worker, “but even worse when you find out Pacifica has been taking money from employees wages and not depositing them into their pensions until months later.” The letter was presumably drafted by the new law firm, Trucker Huss, that Pacifica has hired to clean up its mess.
Pacifica’s letter gives no apology, and states that the misappropriated funds will not be returned into pension accounts until the end of this year. Pacifica says the station’s union workers, who make just $20 an hour, will get only the legally required 3.2% in interest on their misappropriated earnings, which is less than the rate of inflation.
In contrast, Pacifica pays the anti-union law firm Folger Levin, whose services are provided at the tidy sum of $400 an hour, an interest rate of 16.1% on unpaid balances. That makes it pretty clear which services current management seems to value more.