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Congressional Forum
Broadcasts Crisis
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.


"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 conduct."

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 coup."

Daily picketlines outside WBAI protest the treatment of station staff and changes in Pacifica policy.

(For more information, see the Local 404/WBAI website)

UE News - 06/01

Home -> UE News -> 2001 Archives -> Article

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