Pacifica spins pension misappropriation, hires yet another law firm

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disingenuously claiming it was a “misunderstanding” and that Pacifica had not realized that it needed to deposit money withdrawn from its employees’ paychecks by the 15th of every month.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.

Posted in Arlene Engelhardt, CWA 9415, LaVarn Williams, pensions, Tracy Rosenberg | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Update on Pacifica pension raiding; Workers vote no confidence in management at KPFA sister station

KPFA’s union workers are still waiting to get a full accounting of the extent to which parent corporation Pacifica illegally dipped into their pensions.  Paid workers discovered last month that Pacifica was taking money out of their paychecks but not depositing the money in their retirement accounts, which is a violation of federal law.  Christina Huggins, the first executive vice president of CWA Local 9415, which represents KPFA’s paid workers, calls such dealings “wage theft.” Pacifica claims it has restored the money it took out of workers’ accounts, but still has not notified affected employees, apologized to them, nor made them whole by paying them interest.

WPFW workers: No confidence in management

More than 80 unpaid and paid workers at KPFA’s sister station WPFW in Washington DC have taken a vote of no confidence in the general manager put in place by Pacifica ten months ago.  They accuse John Hughes, who was hired by Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt, of refusing to meet with staff, increasing on air fundraising, and slashing the pay of union workers, while leaving managers’ salaries untouched.

“Mr. Hughes has shown a willingness to circumvent station bylaws, ignore process, and demonstrated an aloof and dismissive attitude to WPFW’s volunteer programmers and paid, union staff – whose salaries were cut by more than half in an austerity move – while the HR Director, Development Director and Business Manager maintained their full salaries,” stated radio host Robyn Holden, one of the signers of the “Letter of No Confidence.”

“The programmers at WPFW collectively represent the lifeblood of the station,” said Katea Stitt, WPFW’s Music Director. “The programmers are the frontline of integrity between our community of listeners and the station, so as a Pacifica Foundation station, how can we say we stand for principles of peace, social justice and righteous change when we’re faced with the antithesis of those principles right here in our own house?”

Posted in CWA 9415, financial, KPFA, KPFA unpaid staff, WPFW | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

KPFA union workers vote to support Oakland general strike

KPFA’s union workers have passed a resolution endorsing the Oakland general strike on November 2nd and supporting the movements across the country opposing corporate greed.

“KPFA’s union stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement around the country and supports the Oakland general strike and day of mass action,” read the statement passed by the station’s bargaining unit.

The station’s paid staff, who are represented by CWA Local 9415, have been working in coalition with unpaid staff and listeners to return local control, transparency and fiscal responsibility to KPFA and its parent network, Pacifica.

KPFA’s union workers recently discovered that Pacifica has been raiding their pension funds, in violation of federal law. Late last year, Pacifica violated KPFA’s union contract when it laid off workers from the popular Morning Show and subsequently hired an anti-union law firm at $400 an hour, forcing KPFA to pay tens of thousands of dollars to fight its own workers. KPFA management has also targeted unpaid staff who have critically reported on the actions of interim general manager Andrew Phillips.

Meanwhile, the listener petition submitted to KPFA/Pacifica demanding a recall vote on Pacifica treasurer Tracy Rosenberg is currently stalled by management. Given management’s conflict of interest, listeners have been signing this petition urging that Pacifica immediately delegate responsibility for oversight of the election to a neutral third-party.

KPFA will broadcast live from the Oakland general strike on Wednesday from 10am to 1pm and from 3 to 6pm.  The broadcasts can be heard at 94.1FM on KPFA in the San Francisco Bay Area, 88.1FM on KFCF in the Central Valley, and streaming online at kpfa.org.

Posted in CWA 9415, KPFA, KPFA recall, KPFA unpaid staff, Tracy Rosenberg | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

KPFA interim general manager promotes right-wing conspiracy theories

Interim general manager Andrew Phillips promoted a questionable “thank you gift” to listeners who subscribed to the station during KPFA’s 2011 autumn fund drive.  On Wednesday, October 12th, Phillips hosted and pitched excerpts from Zeitgeist: The Movie, which combines speculation about the origins of Christianity with 9/11 conspiracy theories and far right-wing claims about the Federal Reserve and impending world government.

The movie argues that no plane hit the Pentagon on September 11th and that elites have a plan to put mind-controlling Radio Frequency Identification microchips in people’s brains and, if they protest, stop them by turning off the chips. Ron Paul supporter Aaron Russo is featured in the film claiming that the Rockefellers are in on the nefarious ploy.  The film suggests that some people already have been duped into having microchips implanted in them.  Phillips, who referred to himself during the broadcast as “a conspiracy nut,” described the film as “extraordinary” and “loaded with an amazing potpourri of information.”

While the film was airing, listeners called KPFA to say they would no longer tune into a station that promoted such dubious material just to make money.

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AM programming undermines fund drive; KFCF returns arts programming cancelled by KPFA

Change in avg pledge total per hr at KPFA

KPFA’s fund drive ran five days longer than the last fall’s fund drive, but still fell $80,000 short of goal. The shortfall and overrun are almost entirely attributable to the change in KPFA’s morning lineup.

The hours of 6-10AM raised an average of $8526 per day less than last fall — over the course of the drive, that adds up to a deficit of $145,000 (see this chart for details). Fundraising levels stayed roughly equivalent to the last drive in all other timeslots.

Meanwhile, after KPFA management scrapped the station’s long-running Sunday night arts and drama programming without any listener or local board consultation, listeners complained but management refused to budge.

KFCF programmers table at an event.

Now, the shows KPFA management put on the air — TwitWit and The Week Starts Here — have gotten the thumbs down at Fresno’s KFCF, where they have been removed and the arts programming restored.

While KFCF airs much of KPFA’s programming, it is independently run by the Fresno Free College Foundation. KFCF’s Program Needs Assessment Committee recommended that LA Theater Works be returned to the 7 PM Sunday night slot.

Posted in financial, fundraising shortfalls, interim general manager | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pacifica caught illegally shorting pensions of KPFA’s union workers

Programmer Sasha Lilley and listener Kim Waldron at a KPFA picketline.

Programmer Sasha Lilley and listener Kim Waldron at a KPFA picketline.

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.

Posted in Andrew Phillips, Arlene Engelhardt, CWA 9415, financial, interim general manager, KPFA, LaVarn Williams, Pacifica, pensions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Second San Francisco Labor Council resolution in support of KPFA workers

The San Francisco Labor Council is demanding that KPFA restore the Morning Show, including David Bacon’s labor segment. With a long round of applause after presentations by KPFA workers Antonio Ortiz and Laura Prives, delegates voted unanimously in support of a resolution observing that Pacifica had “spent far more on a $400 per hour antiunion law firm to fight KPFA’s workers than it gained from laying-off Aimee Allison,” one of the Morning Show’s co-hosts.

Referring to Pacifica’s meddling in station affairs, the resolution demands KPFA remain “locally-controlled and locally-accountable” and for management to “respect the union at the station.” Last November, Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt went over the heads of KPFA’s then-pro-union managers, laying off Allison and co-hosts Brian Edwards-Tiekert, and canceling the popular show despite thousands of listener letters and calls urging her not to do so. Engelhardt then installed “interim” managers Phillips and Core, who have refused to reinstate the Morning Show even after clear evidence of a disastrous slide in financial support during KPFA’s morning drive time. (See the latest statistics on listenership and funding here.)

This is the San Francisco Labor Council‘s second resolution in support of KPFA’s staff. TheAlameda, Monterey Bay and South Bay Labor Councils have also passed unanimous resolutions backing KPFA’s workers.

Posted in Arlene Engelhardt, David Bacon, financial, KPFA, labor council resolutions | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Listeners, staff force managers to drop plans to axe Uprising

Deluged by hundreds of emails from listeners, KPFA management has — for now, at least — backed off from its plan to remove Sonali Kolhatkar‘s Uprising from the air. Kolhatkar produces her show at sister station KPFK in Los Angeles, and has been outspoken in her support for KPFA’s workers in the wake of the cancellation of the Morning Show. Other programming changes, however, are on the horizon | SEE ACTION ALERT BELOW.

A recent labor picket at KPFA

But on September 2, without any listener or local board consultation, interim program director Carrie Core announced she’ll scrap KPFA’s long-running Sunday night Act One radio drama starting Sept. 11, replacing it with a hodgepodge of “temporary” shows. All are hosted by allies of management. Two of the replacement programs being installed — “TwitWit” and an unnamed show about KPFA itself — are by George Coates and Allen Green, co-producers of “Better Bad News,” an online project responsible for a bizarre series of propaganda videos during last year’s KPFA election that personally (and falsely) attacking several station workers and members of the local board.

“I’m not sure which is more absurd,” said one KPFA staffer. “That management thinks something called ‘TwitWit’ involving actors reading from a Twitter stream is a viable replacement for award-winning radio drama, or that a vicious partisan should serve as ‘facilitator’ of a show to discuss matters relating to KPFA.”

ACTION ALERT: YOUR EMAILS AND CALLS ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER!
Please communicate your opinion about these latest moves via KPFA’s CONTACT PAGE, or WRITE TO US and we’ll forward your email to KPFA’s and Pacifica’s elected governing boards. You can also call the interim managers directly: 510-848-6767 x 203 (Phillips) or x 209 (Core).

Calling all recall petitions

The listener/staff coalition SaveKPFA is in the last stage of collecting listener petitions demanding a recall of board member Tracy Rosenberg, a key supporter of Pacifica’s top-down purges and programming changes. You can learn more about the effort here.

Posted in censorship, financial, KPFA, KPFA recall | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

KPFA managers to remove critic Sonali Kolhatkar from the air

Sonali Kolhatkar

KPFA’s interim managers admitted this week that they intend to remove a program by Sonali Kolhatkar, a critic of management, replacing it with a show by management ally Steve Zeltzer.

Interim program director Carrie Core acknowledged plans to axe the weekly program Uprising, which originates from KPFA’s sister station KPFK. The program is hosted by Kolhatkar and includes weekly commentaries by Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report. Core has not yet announced when the change will take place. Uprising has aired on KPFA since 2009 every Saturday at 11 am.

Kolhatkar made a public stand of solidarity with KPFA’s union workers when Pacifica executive director Arlene Engelhardt removed the KPFA Morning Show in November, laid off its hosts, and — against Kolhatkar’s wishes — ran the daily version of Uprising in place of the Morning Show. Kolhatkar read a statement on KPFK’s and KPFA’s air saying that she was very unhappy about her program being used in that way by Pacifica management and that she stood with KPFA’s workers. Kolhatkar also wrote this solidarity letter, and interviewed laid-off KPFA worker Brian Edwards-Tiekert (whom Pacifica was later forced to reinstate), as well as Engelhardt on the program.

Kolhatkar, a long-time Pacifica journalist, has also done interviews critical of conspiracy theories, particularly about September 11th. Since parent network Pacifica’s installation of interim managers Andrew Phillips and Carrie Core, such 9/11 theories have been given increasing amounts of time of KPFA’s air.

“The official reason being given for Uprising’s removal is that other programs are already covering the issues we do,” Kolhatkar writes on the Uprising website. “This is strange given that all good journalistic enterprises are expected to cover the issues of the day.” She added that Uprising is one of the highest-rated programs on KPFK.

Along with hosting Uprising, Kolhatkar is the co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, which works in solidarity with the Revolutionary Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) and has brought Malalai Joya to the United States. She’s also the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence.

Managers installing their “labor correspondent”

The same managers who supported paying over $70,000 to fight the station’s union workers have put their ally Zeltzer forward as the station’s “labor correspondent,” replacing long-time KPFA producer David Bacon, who declared his solidarity with the station’s laid-off workers when the Morning Show was axed.

David Bacon

Bacon is the author of several books, including Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants. Labor activists are demanding that management return Bacon to the airwaves, along with other programmers targeted by Pacifica. Four Bay Area labor councils have passed resolutions against management’s actions.

Management has been using the buzz words “local programming” as an excuse to give its allies more airtime and remove those who oppose Pacifica’s top-down agenda. “The real issue is local control at KPFA,” said one long-time staffer. “Our listeners are tired of Pacifica-backed managers making stupid, top-down decisions, and replacing excellent programs with virtually unlistenable ones hosted by their friends,” he said. Both Core and Phillips are interim managers, appointed by Pacifica with no input from the community, and as such, they should not be making any program changes.

Attempts to silence KPFA’s workers

Current pro-Pacifica management is worried that more listeners are finding out the truth of what is happening at KPFA. Managers freely broadcast their own anti-union positions and Pacifica’s, but slap “disciplinary actions” or gag rules on KPFA’s workers when they speak their minds about the radio network they have labored to build over decades.

David Gans

Unpaid music programmer David Gans, who hosts Dead to the World, got this letter of warning from Core for brief on-air comments last week that were critical of management. Core previously disciplined paid staffers Mitch Jeserich, John Hamilton and Mark Mericle for on-air mentions of staff layoffs. Phillips lashed out at both unpaid and paid news staffers for merely reporting his comments on underwriting and “business sponsorships” for KPFA.

Gans, who is also an elected member of KPFA’s Local Station Board, calls his warning letter “another salvo in an ongoing battle for the soul of KPFA and Pacifica,” and urges supporters to sign the recall petition against board member Tracy Rosenberg, a key management supporter.

ACTION ALERT: Here’s how you can help!

Call interim manager Carrie Core at 510-848-6767 ext. 209 or email her via KPFA’s comments page to object to her changing KPFA’s programming and trying to silence KPFA staff. You can also send a message of solidarity to Sonali Kolhatkar and “like” a Facebook page that has been set up to support her program: Keep Uprising on KPFA!.

Posted in Andrew Phillips, Arlene Engelhardt, Brian Edwards-Tiekert, censorship, David Bacon, David Gans, KPFA unpaid staff, Sonali Kolkathar | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Campaign launched to recall key ally of Pacifica management

SaveKPFA.org, a coalition of listeners, paid and unpaid staff, has launched a campaign to recall KPFA and Pacifica board member Tracy Rosenberg. Rosenberg is a key ally of Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt, who has imposed top-down purges and programming changes on KPFA despite widespread listener and staff opposition.

Rosenberg has admitted to drawing up a list of KPFA workers to lay off–out of seniority order–and presenting it at a secret management meeting last September. The list included Morning Show staffers Laura Prives (who was laid off on Engelhardt’s orders a little over a month later, but then had her layoff rescinded), Brian Edwards-Tiekert (who Pacifica had to reinstate, with back-pay, because his layoff breached the KPFA union contract), and Aimee Allison (whose reinstatement KPFA’s union is still fighting for). The destruction of the KPFA Morning Show has cost the station six-figure sums in lost fundraising, putting the jobs of other union workers at KPFA on the line, even as management refused pledges totaling enough money to reinstate Aimee Allison and restore the program.

You can find out more about the recall campaign here.

 

Posted in fundraising shortfalls, KPFA, KPFA Morning Show, KPFA recall, KPFA unpaid staff, Pacifica, recall Tracy Rosenberg | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment