At WBAI, Pacifica Network
Disconnecting a Congressman when he’s speaking on live radio proved not
to be an effective way for Pacifica management to avoid discussion of the
public radio network’s labor relations policies.
A Capitol Hill forum conducted by Rep. Major Owens (D., N.Y.) on May
15 brought together some 60 community activists, dissident Pacifica board
members and fired employees, many of whom testified about the crisis at WBAI
in New York and other stations in the listener-supported chain.
Earlier this year, Rep. Owens personally experienced what union members
denounce as "the reckless, incompetent and hypocritical actions" of
Pacifica management. The Brooklyn Congressman was discussing the management
problem at WBAI in a live interview with Ken Nash, host of
"Building Bridges," a labor news show. Owens was cut off while
talking to Nash.
In a speech on the House floor, Owens described the "weird and
frightening experience of being gagged."
WBAI’s interim general manager, Utrice Leid, claims Owens was
calling from Washington "with his own version of the inaccuracies leveled
at Pacifica." She says that when she tried to go on the air to speak with
Owens, Nash assaulted her, an engineer switched the broadcast to music, and
Owens hung up. That’s not what the member of Congress says.
'THE LINE WENT DEAD'
"I was talking on the phone in my house in New York, listening to
myself on WBAI on my little radio," Owens told the Washington Post.
"Suddenly, I didn’t hear myself talking anymore. I heard music. Then,
the line went dead."
Nash, an active UE Local 404 member and National convention delegate, was
immediately fired by Leid. Nash’s co-host on "Building Bridges," Mimi
Rosenberg, had been recently fired for alleged "reprehensible
Pacifica managers refused Owens’ request to personally testify and
explain their actions and policies.
Among those who did testify was Marialice Williams, a former
chairman of Washington station WPFW’s Local Advisory Board and of the
District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency; she said the Pacifica network had
been taken over by "mean-spirited people."
Local 404 has been in contract negotiations with Leid since late March. She
replaced General Manager Valerie Van Isler who was fired by Pacifica
management on Dec. 22, 2000, in what union members call a "midnight
Daily picketlines outside WBAI protest the treatment of station staff and
changes in Pacifica policy.
(For more information, see the Local