1) Why budget and staff cuts at KPFA?
Position paper by Independents for Community Radio
It’s not surprising that the prospect of budget cuts and staff layoffs has evoked deep concern, even anger, among KPFA employees and listeners, but we can’t let emotions and heated rhetoric obscure the fundamental facts of the situation. The station must reduce its staff headcount for one sad but simple reason: There is no money to continue paying all current employees, there are no reserves to cover the shortfall and there’s no possibility of making it up by cutting other expenses.
KPFA is in this situation because for several years it has spent more money than it raised. In fiscal year 2010, which just ended, the station had revenues of $3.49 million, but expenses of $4.01 million, leaving a net loss of more than half a million dollars. The year before, in fiscal 2009, the net loss was even larger.
The budgets approved by the Local Station Board (LSB) and the Pacifica National Board (PNB) for these years called for reducing expenses to trim these losses, but KPFA management largely ignored these mandates and made only minimal cuts. As of Sept. 1, 2010, our station had the largest payroll and the largest deficit in the Pacifica network.
The station was able to survive only by drawing down its financial reserves, then by suspending the payments all Pacifica stations owe to the national Pacifica Foundation for Democracy Now and other central services and, most recently, by borrowing from the Pacifica station in Houston to cover the September payroll.
These options are no longer available. The reserves, which exceeded $1 million just a few years ago, have all been spent. The Pacifica Foundation can’t survive if KPFA doesn’t pay its dues – including its deficit from last year. And the other Pacifica stations have neither the money nor the motivation to subsidize our profligate spending.
So balancing the budget is not a matter of choice. And because salaries and benefits constitute the majority of the budget and most of the other expenses are fixed costs that can’t be cut, the only way to balance the budget is to reduce the paid staff. And unfortunately, because expenses are so far out of line with revenues, the cuts have to be pretty drastic.
The alleged ‘purge plot’
In the final days of the just-concluded Local Station Board election, several KPFA hosts associated with the former Concerned Listeners group, now calling themselves SaveKPFA, took to the air with dramatic charges that three members of the LSB who also serve on the Pacifica National Board – a thinly veiled reference to Tracy Rosenberg, Joe Wanzala and Shahram Aghamir – were plotting to use the budget crisis as a cover for a purge of their political opponents on the station staff. Here’s what really happened:
KPFA’s fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Management is supposed to draft a budget and present it to the LSB for approval in August at the latest. But as of mid-September of this year, despite the critical financial situation, KPFA’s interim management had not produced even a draft of a budget. At that point, Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt stepped in to move the process forward. She invited management, the station’s PNB reps – including both Independents for Community Radio (ICR) and SaveKPFA members – and others to a series of meetings to discuss ways the budget could be balanced.
At these meetings, which for obvious reasons were supposed to be confidential, a wide variety of options were tossed around; inevitably, they included discussion of which staff members would have to be laid off and how these cuts would affect programming. The PNB members from ICR – SaveKPFA’s Andrea Turner didn’t attend – noted that under the labor contract between KPFA and the union that represents paid staff – Communications Workers of America, Local 9415 – seniority is supposed to be the primary criterion, after taking account of differences in skills and job performance, when layoffs are required.
In other words, the “secret meetings” were actually convened by Pacifica’s executive director in fulfillment of her duties, and the supposed “hit list” was really the union seniority chart.
The upshot of the meeting was that the executive director reaffirmed that KPFA’s fiscal year 2011 budget must be balanced and that in order to achieve that goal, salaries and related expenses have to be cut to a total of $1.75 million, down from $2.3 million in FY2010. Details about exactly who will be cut have not been announced, but after hearing from the ED about her plans in executive session on Oct. 3, the Pacifica National Board unanimously – i.e., with support from all factions – adopted the following resolution: “The PNB fully supports the Pacifica executive director in the difficult task of balancing the KPFA budget utilizing the staff cuts recommended by the executive director in accordance with principles she has enunciated, of respect for seniority, recognition of skill sets and maintaining the programming grid to the extent possible.”
2) Excerpts from ‘An Open Letter on KPFA’s Budget’
by Tracy Rosenberg
On Sept. 22, I listened to and participated in a brainstorming session. At that session, this is what I did. I listened to KPFA’s interim management present a plan to deal with the budget deficit. That plan was to remove Flashpoints from the 5 p.m. evening slot and replace it with a syndicated news program from an external source. To remove Hard Knock Radio from the 4 p.m. evening slot and replace it with a syndicated Baltimore NPR program hosted by Michael Eric Dyson.
I listened to a plan to implement staff cuts in these positions in the seniority chart (1 being the highest seniority): Nos. 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, 18, 20 and 26. And then I was sworn to confidentiality, accompanied by a rather loud table thump to emphasize the point.
I do not come to meetings unprepared. I had reviewed the CWA Local 9415 contract. I had reviewed the staff seniority chart. I had thought about the structural problems that might result from implementing the contract as written, namely that seniority must prevail.
A more intelligible, ethical, reasonable and labor positive conversation would have looked more like this: Nos. 36, 34, 32, 31, 29, 28, 27, 25, 24 and 23 – with a few skips mostly linked to shop steward status, core operational functions and, in one case, the non-viability of replacement by a more senior individual.
And presto – there’s your political hit list.
The Local 9415 of the CWA – a union whose national office I have cordial relations with and have worked with some in opposition to the Comcast-NBC merger – is acting in an irresponsible manner. Siding with management to advocate for unfair reductions that violate the basic seniority provisions in their own contract and endorsing slates in board elections is the kind of behavior that gives unions a bad name.
Let’s remember the context. We have lost a million dollars in 24 months. We are out of money. In the last month, KPFA borrowed money from the Houston station to make its payroll, had its long distance telephone service cut off and its online archives collapse.
KPFA in 2009-2010 looks to have the largest deficit and the largest payroll in the network. It is a failing unit.
KPFK in Los Angeles has a bigger signal area, is not posting massive deficits and does it with about 24 FTE (full time equivalent positions). KPFA is currently at 30.51 FTE and after “decimation,” as it was so hysterically described, would also be at approximately 24 FTE.
Enough is enough.
To learn more about Independents for Community Radio, visit http://www.voteindyradio.org/node/23. Tracy Rosenberg, executive director of Media Alliance, was just re-elected to the KPFA Local Station Board with the second highest number of votes. She also represents KPFA on the Pacifica National Board, which governs the Pacifica network. Tracy can be reached at email@example.com.