NES Response to Fair Elections Complaint Filed 8-11-2019 KPFA

The complainant wishes to be anonymous. The complainant alleges that KPFA staff candidate Steve Zeltzer made two remarks during the KPFA staff candidate debate on July 24 that she/he believes to be false.

The first complaint by the complainant is that candidate Zeltzer stated that “the unpaid staff should have a union and the CWA opposed that.”

The second complaint is that candidate Zeltzer stated that “there is no grievance procedure for unpaid staff {at KPFA}.

The complainant alleges these two statements are a violation of the rule against slanderous and/or libelous statements about other candidates. The complainant does not request a specific punitive action if their complaint is upheld.

Discussion: We will discuss both complaints sequentially with regard to the two prongs of the cited rule as below:

With regard to a fair campaign violation, the rule invoked by the complainant reads as follows:

The Foundation and stations will not allow the expression of libelous or slanderous statements about candidates through any of its resources, whether on-air, web sites, or otherwise.

This rule has a two-prong standard, firstly that the statement or statements must meet the standards of libel or slander and secondly that the statement must be about other candidates.

Candidate Zeltzer’s exact statement is: “I think the unpaid staff, who do the majority of the programming at KPFA, should have a union and should be represented. Unfortunately, the union opposed that, the CWA. I’m a member of the CWA freelancers union and they opposed it so there is no union representing the unpaid staff, as a result of which we don’t have a grievance procedure that really works, like the contract that the paid staff has, and also we’re not consulted. There’s never been, in the last two or three years, there’s been no staff meetings, regular staff meetings. I think every station should have regular staff meetings, where the manager, the program director, they can report to the staff, paid and unpaid, say what their issues are, what their concerns are, so there can be an interchange. We don’t have that, as a result of which, there have been programming changes just announced, not just to us, but to the station board, without any why, what , whatever and listeners have concerns and the staff have concerns.

Discussion of complaint #1

The complainant alleges that it is both false and a slanderous and/or libelous statement that the CWA opposed the inclusion of unpaid staff in the KPFA bargaining unit. The complainant cites a 20 year old unit clarification complaint filed by then-Pacifica management against the UE bargaining unit at WBAI, KPFA’s sister station, which under appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, resulted in a 1999 decision that the UE unit at WBAI should exclude the station’s unpaid staff. Prior to that decision, and while the appeal was still under consideration by the NLRB, KPFA’s workers voted move their bargaining unit from the UE to the CWA and to exclude the unpaid staff from the new CWA unit and the unit has remained as constituted in 1997 to the current day in 2019.

The first prong is that the statement rise to the level of slander and/or libel. The definition of libel and/or slander is as follows:

The action or crime of making a false spoken statement damaging to a person’s reputation.

In order to demonstrate that the statement “the CWA opposed it” (in the past tense) is affirmatively false, the complainant would have to provide some statement on the part of CWA at the time that it supported the inclusion of unpaid staff in the new CWA bargaining unit, that CWA objected in a public record in 1997 to the vote of the KPFA paid staff to exclude the unpaid staff from the new CWA bargaining unit or that CWA formally objected to the 1999 NLRB ruling regarding the WBAI UE unit clarification appeal that came out years afterward. The complainant does not provide any evidence that would prove the statement demonstrably false.

The second prong is that the statement “the CWA opposed it” is about another candidate or candidates. The complainant alleges that because staff candidate Phillip Maldari served as a CWA staff steward in the past and because listener candidate Christina Huggins was a CWA staffer that the statement by Zeltzer is damaging to their reputation(s) by association. To state the obvious, CWA is not a candidate. With regard to the two associational claims: a) since there was a 1997 vote by KPFA’s paid staff on whether or not to proceed with a new CWA bargaining unit that excluded the unpaid staff, and candidate Maldari was a member of the KPFA paid staff in 1997 and voted on that question, the position of any member of KPFA’s paid staff in 1997, regardless of staff steward status, is a matter of public record. b) Candidate Huggins was an employee of CWA Local 9415, according to her candidate statement from 2002 to 2015. The referenced opposition to the inclusion of the unpaid staff in the CWA bargaining unit formed in 1997 predates her stated association with CWA by five years and therefore a statement that it is slanderous and associates this candidate with the actions of her employer five years prior to her employment is tenuous.

Discussion of complaint #2

In the second complaint, the complainant alleges that a statement by candidate Zeltzer that “there is no grievance procedure for unpaid staff” {at KPFA} is false due to the presence of an unpaid staff grievance process contained in the UPSO bylaws which are posted on the website.

The complaint is an inaccurate transcription of candidate Zeltzer’s words, which are transcribed above. To reiterate: candidate Zeltzer stated:

“There is no union representing the unpaid staff, as a result of which we don’t have a grievance procedure that really works, like the contract that the paid staff has.”

It may be characterized as a matter of opinion whether or not the unpaid staff grievance procedure “really works”, but there is nothing false about the statement that there is no union representing the unpaid staff that provides a bargaining unit contract like the contract that the paid staff has.

Since the statement is not false, there is no need to continue the discussion to the second prong of whether the statement is damaging to the reputation of another candidate.

Ruling: The statements cited in the complaint do not constitute slander and/or libel against other candidates. Neither statement has been proven to be demonstrably false and neither the Communications Workers of America or “KPFA” are candidates.