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Progressives scratch heads over Pacifica radio hire of Jackson Lewis

KPFAThe KPFA Worker website says that the Pacifica Foundation has retained the law firm of Jackson Lewis to manage some of its legal affairs. The foundation owns listener supported station KPFA in Berkeley, and four similar non-commercial stations in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C. and Houston.

“We see the entry of Jackson Lewis as a declaration of war on the unions that represent Pacifica workers,” wrote KPFA’s union stewards to their employer last week. “We fear it will lead to unnecessary legal expenses the network can ill afford, sour Pacifica’s already dismal relationship with its union workers, and alienate many listener-supporters who do not want their donations to be handed over to one of organized labor’s greatest enemies in the United States.”

KPFA’s paid staff is represented by the Communications Workers of America. Jackson Lewis is widely regarded as a management law firm that practices “union avoidance.” The pro-union American Rights at Work website cites numerous instances of the aggressive stance that the firm allegedly counsels for its clients, among them Borders Books.

“Borders is a regular client of Jackson Lewis,” ARW notes. “The firm helped Borders crush union support by firing union activists and threatening to close stores if workers voted for union representation. Borders even banned Michael Moore from speaking at an event at all stores because he is a known union supporter.”

Also The New York Daily News: “The publisher of the New York Daily News hired Jackson Lewis six months before union contracts expired in 1989, in preparation for a ‘war’ with the unions. The workers eventually went on strike in response to the employer’s refusal to bargain contracts with the workers in good faith.”

I don’t know why Pacifica has taken this route. Jackson Lewis is not the only questionable firm, from a pro-union perspective, that Pacifica may have deployed. Littler Mendelson appears to be working for the foundation as well [UPDATE (3/23/2012) The Littler Mendelson link that I referenced in this article may just be a listing of NLRB cases, rather than a listing of cases that the firm is handling].

I’d write to the Pacifica National Office and ask them for an explanation, but they never answer my e-mails. But Mitchel Cohen, Chair of Pacifica station WBAI in New York City’s Local Station Board, was kind enough to respond to my request for more information and his perspective on the matter. I reproduce his response unedited, and in full:

Hi Matthew,

Pacifica’s use of the Jackson-Lewis law corporation was news to me. It has never come before the Local Board—nor do any of these sorts of contracts.

I don’t like using large corporate law firms as they are invariably involved in scummy business. On the other hand, I wish Pacifica was not being sued by some folks who are using despicable methods that the network needs to protect itself against. As those suing us know only too well, individual “movement” lawyers often do not have sufficient resources to defend the interests of the network from such unscrupulous firms and individuals.

We live in the capital of capitalism, and are not immune from the contradictions that entails and which permeate our lives.

I inquired, and I’ve been told that this is not a new decision (to use Jackson-Lewis)—which does not make it any better; I just write that to show that the Jackson-Lewis hiring is not specific to any particular case. Here’s what I’ve been told:

All decisions to use Jackson-Lewis in insurance cases were approved by the board in prior years—apparently beginning in 2009, on the recommendation of Pacifica’s corporate counsel, Ricardo deAnda.

The board also approved settlements secured by Jackson-Lewis on 2 previous occasions in 2011.

Nothing has changed in the scope of work. Jackson-Lewis is continuing to handle some litigation defense when cases are expected to exceed the insurance policy. It’s probably best to have one firm do the case from beginning to end, rather than switch to an equally “problematic” firm mid-stream.

That said, I believe Pacifica should not use Jackson-Lewis since they go beyond representing evil clients in other cases and actually strategize and campaign against working class organizing. It’s really, though, a matter of degree of despicability. I am willing to make that recommendation to the powers that be (such as they are).

But the Board will respond (and they’ll have a strong point) that we will have to use one scummy law firm or another, due to the officers’ and directors’ insurance policy. As the unsigned KPFA Worker article knows—but raises the issue for polemical purposes anyway—once cases exceed the deductible (and most wrongful discharge/sexual harassment ones will), the only option is apparently a firm listed on the Court’s approved insurance company list. None of them will meet the standards you or I would prefer. We would just be switching from one asshole legal corporate firm to a different one. That’s what happens when we get sued and the case exceeds the deductible. We’re stuck.

Still, I think that the Pacifica Board needs to more carefully check the credentials of the firms it hires—again, it’s almost impossible to find one that has the resources to protect the network and that has not been involved in the sort of stuff that Jackson-Lewis is apparently involved in, but still, the Board has a responsibility to minimize contracting with such firms.

Furthermore, Pacifica should write a letter to Jackson-Lewis explaining why we will no longer avail ourselves of their services, and invite other not-for-profits to sign onto it.

Perhaps such a boycott would have a salutory affect on the policies of those wishing to do business with us, especially if we’re able to carve out space in that way for less-disgusting law firms to be added to the Court’s approved list. (Maybe we can even get them to bid for the privilege of representing us! Yea, yea, dream on, Mitchel.)

Feel free to add more information if you’ve got some, or to agree or disagree with what has been said. Comments that gratuitously attack Mitchel, or me, or anyone else, will be deleted from the thread. Comments with lots of URLs will sit in our spam catcher until we notice them.


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9 Responses to Progressives scratch heads over Pacifica radio hire of Jackson Lewis

  1. Gavin Dahl March 20, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    Didn’t even attempt a single phone call to the Pacifica office? What’s the difference between this story on Radio Survivor and every run-of-the-mill hit piece on the website of your favorite side of the Pacifica factions?

  2. Matthew Lasar March 20, 2012 at 9:23 am #

    Gavin:

    I think that the difference is that I quoted at length the comments of Mitchel Cohen, Chair of the WBAI Station Board, who is in no way aligned with the faction that you characterize as my favorite. Did you bother to read, or even notice, his remarks?

  3. KPFA Worker March 20, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    It is well-documented that Pacifica decided to use Jackson Lewis on at least four cases that were *not* under the control of Pacifica’s insurance carrier—in other words, Pacifica has chosen to use the firm, not had the firm imposed on it.

    We also understand that Pacifica recently put Jackson Lewis on a general retainer for labor and employment issues.

    What does it matter whether it was Pacifica’s insurance carrier that initially hired Jackson Lewis? Pacifica has repeatedly chosen to expand its use of the nation’s top union-busting firm.

    It’s a gross misuse of listener dollars and a threat to Pacifica’s unions.

    KPFA Worker is a coalition of unpaid and paid staff, along with union and community supporters. We invite you to visit us at http://www.KPFAWorker.org to sign up for our newsletter, or send a message of solidarity.

  4. Mitchel Cohen March 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Matthew,

    Thank you for being fair in trying to understand what’s going on.

    One of the things missing from this discussion has to do with why Pacifica needs to employ law firms to begin with.

    Take into consideration, please, that a number of claims propandized by KPFAWorker and costing the network a ton of money were dismissed by the NLRB. But Pacifica still had to pay for the expense of defending itself. Some argue that those around KPFAWorker have deep pockets; they know those suits were not legally valid but pursued them anyway for propagandistic purposes, with the effect (intent?) of bleeding the network.

    The anonymous KPFAWorker continues to encourage efforts that are bleeding Pacifica and KPFA dry. And now they suddenly are “concerned” about howl Pacifica is defending itself from their attacks? Come on.

    I do not support Pacifica’s contracting with the Jackson-Lewis law firm — as I wrote, Pacifica should cancel its contract and explain publicly why it is doing so — but I need to stress, again, that there are no good guy law firms competent of defending adequately against such contrived and vicious filings that KPFAWorker encourages.

    Most people know that Pacifica, like any mid-size not-for-profit — faced with the “choice” of settling for a few bucks or spending months or years defending itself and ultimately prevailing (but at a much greater economic cost) — almost always ends up settling. It’s become a gravy-train, for some. Only very wealthy individuals and corporations can ignore the costs and fight it out to the bitter end. But Pacifica is going to have to stop caving in every time someone waves a costly lawsuit in front of it; and it also has to try to recoup those costs.

    Note: I am not talking about legitimate grievances, like some of the sexual harassment claims. The way to deal with that issue is to hire an effective Human Resources director who will mandate training classes on proper sexual (and other) conduct for ALL associated with Pacifica, all management and all staff. That, too, will be costly, but it will be both morally principled and much more cost-effective in the not-so-long-run.

    Please also note that I am not a national director of Pacifica, and so my proposals do not necessarily come up at the National Board level (tho’ I, like most of us, do my best to fight for them).

    Anyone can write directly to me at mitchelcohen(at)mindspring.com. Thanx for upholding Pacifica in these difficult times.

    Mitchel Cohen

    Chair, WBAI Local Station Board

    *for ID only.

  5. Real kpfaworker March 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    Radio Survivor should not feature the patently false accusations of the anonymous “KPFA worker” posters. Issuing hit and run shots to try to gain partisan advantage in upcoming election cycles is all that site and the partnered “Save KPFA.org” site are about. They have little shame about distorting the truth to meet their objectives.

    “It is well-documented that Pacifica decided to use Jackson Lewis on at least four cases that were *not* under the control of Pacifica’s insurance carrier—in other words, Pacifica has chosen to use the firm, not had the firm imposed on it”

    It’s not well-documented.. Well-documented how? Directors and officers insurance policies require the use of insurance-approved law firms in cases that do or will exceed the deductible. No insurance company-approved law firm is exactly union-friendly. Pacifica has to delegate those cases sooner or later and has done so to Jackson-Lewis since 2009.

    “We also understand that Pacifica recently put Jackson Lewis on a general retainer for labor and employment issues”

    No they didn’t. The board did paperwork to lower the fees for the existing scope of work on insurance cases.

    “What does it matter whether it was Pacifica’s insurance carrier that initially hired Jackson Lewis? Pacifica has repeatedly chosen to expand its use of the nation’s top union-busting firm”

    It’s the same scope of work for the past 3 years.. Nothing is new. The entire board unanimously approved two settlements negotiated on their behalf by Jackson-Lewis, including several who claim to represent “kpfa worker” and “save kpfa”.

    If Pacifica wanted to bust the unions and it has a relationship with this formidable union-busting company, why did it have 1 arbitration, 15 grievances and 5 Labor Relations Board complaints by the CWA in 2010-2011 ( all 21 complaints were resolved in Pacificas favor) handled by Folger-Levin and not a single one by Jackson-Lewis?

    You tell me.

    I

  6. KPFAWorker March 20, 2012 at 7:38 pm #

    So-called “real” KPFA Worker above has so weak a case and so little credibility that she poses as KPFA Worker. (I guess we should be flattered?) It’s likely the same person who has been buying up internet domains that mimic KPFAWorker and SaveKPFA to confuse listeners.

    There has been a shameful rhetoric of anti-unionism coming from Pacifica’s current management and those who support it for the last several years. It is not surprising to us that we are now finding anti-union actions to go along with that rhetoric.

    Blaming the union(s), firing and intimidating those who speak up, playing divide and conquer with the unpaid and paid staffs, banning discussion on “free speech” radio – all are signals that there are some in management have decided to destroy the institution so they can control it unopposed.

    It’s become a downward spiral, not only with fundraising (bad programming means less money means longer fund drives), but with staffing. What radio folks in their right mind would apply for jobs at a network that not only pays peanuts, but drags the name of any staffer (paid or unpaid) thru the mud if the speak up about how the network is run. As you probably know, very few. Those who do it, do it out of commitment to the ideal of Pacifica/KPFA.

    Give us a break, Mitchell: nobody “forced” Pacifica to hire right-wing union-busting firms. Pacifica could be a progressive employer and treat its workers with respect, imagine that? Even if NLRB charges are filed on some cases, you don’t have to hire expensive law firms. In many unions, rank-and-file stewards argue those cases as part of their unpaid work. Pacifica’s all for unpaid work, aren’t we, except when we’re spending the listeners’ donated money, right?

    The total so far, just at KPFA, has been over $100,000 in listener money to anti-union consultants. It’s a sad commentary on what Pacifica has become.

    Thousands of Pacifica listeners have written and called network management asking for change, only to be ignored. The pending recall vote on Pacifica National Board treasurer Tracy Rosenberg, who has repeatedly attacked KPFA’s workers and their union, is a case in point.

    Elections at all 5 Pacifica stations are coming up this fall. Let’s be sure and elect people who take seriously Pacifica’s mission of peace and social justice. Please circulate news on Pacifica to your friends and family in the 5 station listening areas: Berkeley, Los Angeles, Washington DC, New York City and Houston.

    Anyone can learn more and sign up for alerts at:

    http://www.KPFAWorker.org and http://www.SaveKPFA.org

  7. Real kpfaworker March 26, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    I guess it is irrelevant the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rejected every single of 5 consecutive complaints brought by “KPFA Worker” as being entirely without merit.

    Pacifica 5, KPFA Worker 0.

    Apologies to subscribers who had to pay $100,000 to dismiss the repeated frivolous complaints filed by by those who hide behind the “kpfa worker” mask.

    They owe you an apology for wasting your money.

    It’s obvious this is electioneering. As the last line of the post makes clear.

    Anonymous mudslinging. Yuck.

  8. longtime listener March 31, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    There are only two pieces of information that really matter in this discussion about union busting at Pacifica:

    * Did Pacifica choose to do business with union busting law firms?

    The answer is NO: In lawsuits filed against Pacifica, the network is locked into a list of lawyers approved by the insurance company, and all options listed are union busting lawyers. There is no choice.

    * Did Pacifica use union busting law firms against the union that is representing workers at KPFA?

    The answer is NO: The insurance-mandated union busting lawyers have never been used in any conflict with the CWA, and are therefore not involved in any union busting at KPFA.

    There is NO union busting going on at KPFA, and anyone who tells you there is, is either lying or very misinformed.

  9. it's really very simple April 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    A management regime at Pacifica decided to make changes at KPFA, largely to further their own political agenda, under the guise of a budget crisis. They believe their ideas are so right that they should not need to follow seniority and grievance provisions in the union contract, nor deal in good faith with the staff union.

    The Morning Show cancellation and a slew of other unpopular programming changes driven by Pacifica management have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in listener donations — and the station continues to ignore listener pleas for change.

    Pacifica has wasted tens of thousands of dollars on expensive law firms to defend its questionable choices, and even to handle routine union grievances. By all accounts, Pacifica chose to hire Jackson Lewis, a notorious law firm which the AFL-CIO calls “America’s number one union-buster.”

    And Pacifica is awash in fiscal mismanagement. Foundation staff have bounced workers’ paychecks (a crime) and illegally dipped into workers retirement accounts.

    Pacifica has yet to mail ballots for a listener-prompted recall of the Pacifica National Board treasurer, despite certifying back in November that the signatures on the petitions were valid. By the board’s own timeline, ballots should have been mailed before the end of 2011.

    Pacifica’s pattern of retaliation against critics of the current regime has had a chilling effect on staff, who now must fear disciplinary action and discharge. In violation of longstanding station tradition, Pacifica is trying to establish a gag rule, barring workers from talking about station politics on the air.

    Labor councils throughout Northern California have urged Pacifica to end their hostile tactics and resume decent labor relations with their workers.

    Listeners, donors and all KPFA staff, paid and unpaid, have a right to expect better.

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