What happened to me today
by Brian Edwards-Tiekert

Today, I got called in to be handed a layoff notice. Pacifica’s Executive Director has cut the entire staff of the Morning Show–and left every other staff position untouched.

This violates our union contact: we have more seniority than people who *aren’t* getting cut. It also makes no financial sense: During pledge drives, we’re KPFA station’s largest fundraiser, accounting for about 25% of total dollars pledged. We also have the largest audience of any program produced at KPFA, but apparently Pacifica’s not interested in leaving us on the air long enough to even say goodbye to the audience we’ve built: she’s pre-empting the program immediately.

Which leaves one to conclude that the board members running Pacifica either 1) are purging their critics for political reasons, or 2) are so committed to turning KPFA into an all-volunteer station that they’ll sabotage its fundraising to get there.

KPFA’s staff union will be fighting this on legal grounds. We’ll also need a strong show of public support if we’re going to get The Morning Show back. Check kpfaworker.org and savekpfa.org for updates.

There’s a larger set of stakes than union rights: within KPFA’s political milieu, The Morning Show has stood for a few things that set us apart: 1) we interview people we disagree with, 2) we ask challenging questions of people we *do* agree with, 3) we host debates, and 4) we combine local, state, national, and international coverage in one locally-produced broadcast. We also don’t give a platform to the esoteric conspiracy theories and snake-oil hucksters that have become popular at other Pacifica stations during pledge drives.

What’s on the line here is whether KPFA is going to be a source of journalism whose political edge goes hand in hand with professional production values. What follows, for Pacifica fetishists,  is my account of getting canned.

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When I returned from lunch shortly after 2:PM today (11/08), KPFA Interim General Manager Ahmad Anderson called me into his office. I asked, “Do I need to bring a steward with me?” He nodded. His eyes were red, like he’d been crying.

Mark Mericle and Antonio Ortiz accompanied me to Anderson’s office as witnesses.

He handed me a letter. The letter informs me that “effective today, we can no longer afford to pay for your services, and must inform you that you are hereby laid off.” It said I would be paid through December 8.

“Is my position staying open?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Ahmad said. “I didn’t have anything to do with the decision.”

“Who made the decision?”

“Arlene” [Arlene Engelhardt is the Executive Director of the Pacifica Foundation, which owns KPFA]

“Is anyone with less seniority than me staying on payroll?” He screwed up his face, thought about it, and then said, “Yes.”

“People in the programming division?”

“Yes.”

“When will we talk about my seniority rights?”

“I don’t know.”

“This says that I’ll be paid through December 8 — is that contingent on my continuing to perform my work duties?”

“No.”

“Do you expect us to do a show tomorrow?”

“I don’t know”

“Well, we’ll do our show tomorrow, then — we’ve already booked all the guests. And then,  after, we’ll figure out as a team what we’ll do going forward. I’ll give you a heads-up that we have a practice of being forthright with our listeners, so we’ll inform them what we know about the changes at the Morning Show.”

“Be civil”

“Of course.”

Here are the facts:

KPFA’s union was given a list of everyone being involuntarily laid off — the Morning Show staff were the only ones on it. It appears we’ve been singled out.

If no-one else is getting cut, we’ve been laid off waaaay out of seniority order.

There’s no financial argument for cutting our show: we post the station’s highest fundraising results during fund drives, the largest audience of any locally-produced program, and raise three times what we cost. *And*, the fundraising on the KPFA Morning Show has been increasing.

So, what makes the Morning Show different? As an elected staff representative on KPFA’s Local Station Board, I’ve made enemies in Pacifica’s famously-fractious governance politics. Last month, our union discovered that my name appeared on a list of people to fire drawn up by three members of Pacifica’s National Board. As I have the most seniority of anyone working on the Morning Show, they apparently had to lay off the whole crew to get to me.

As a member of KPFA’s staff union, I also played an active role in organizing to fight cuts at the station. I worked on a union-elected committee that tried (unsuccessfully) to negotiate alternatives to layoffs with Pacifica’s Executive Director. I spoke at an informational picket in front of Pacifica’s offices last Thursday. And my name was listed as a contact on a press release that went out today, announcing KPFA’s union had filed an Unfair Labor Practice complaint over Pacifica’s unwillingness to negotiate alternatives to layoffs. So, add retaliation to the list of motivations.

What’s next? Without the Morning Show contributing to KPFA’s fund drives, the station’s revenues will likely start a downward spiral. (We don’t just fundraise during our own timeslot — I fundraise during timeslots across the day, including Democracy Now!; our talented producers are the station’s primary source of premiums–thank-you gifts–that are used across the schedule). With the fund-drive revenues plummeting, Pacifica management will have to lay off much of the remainder of KPFA’s unionized staff. If the goal is to turn KPFA into a volunteer-run station, Grover Norquist couldn’t have planned a better strategy.