It is Sunday afternoon, 8/19/2001 16:47:14, and by now everybody knows that Pacifica Executive Director Bessie Wash came to WBAI late on the night of December 22nd, and had all of the locks changed. Ms. Wash declared Utrice Leid Interim General Manager of WBAI.
During a “Report to the Listener” on January 24, 2001, Utrice Leid reinstituted the “gag rule” prohibiting anyone from talking about “internal WBAI business” on the air. The WBAI Union has taken a position opposing the new “gag rule.”
WBAI Program Director Bernard White has been fired.
Sharan Harper, a Collective Bargaining Unit member, has been fired for no stated cause. The WBAI Union has filed a grievance on this illegal firing. The WBAI Union has now filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against WBAI Management.
It has now been established that a contingent from the group “United African Movement” has been brought in as a personal security detail for Utrice Leid. It has not been definitely established whether or not they are armed. Many WBAI Staff are very concerned at having someone's personal gang lounging about the station. The contingent from the “United African Movement” has now been reduced to one on most days, although on special occasions it has reportedly been increased to five.
For a number of months a group for police and corrections officers had been brought in to be “guards” at WBAI at night. This group is no longer occupying the station at night.
The other side of this coin is that some irresponsible people have made threats and statements about “storming the station” to reinstall Valerie Van Isler as General Manager. It is hoped that no one will make this experience even more unpleasant by taking such actions.
On the morning of June 4, 2001, eighteen listeners from a group no one had ever heard of before attempted to enter Master Control at WBAI and read a statement. An altercation broke out and they left when asked to. Unfortunately, this sort of thing does not help matters. It gave Management more excuses to not relax its “security” measures against Staff.
Citing the above mentioned incursion by a group calling itself “LOUD RAPP” WBAI Management has installed eight security cameras and many card key readers at WBAI. Many Staff are now restricted in terms of what hours they can move through and work in the radio station because several internal doors are locked by the card keys as well as the front door. Movements and activities within the station are monitored by the cameras, including meetings in the WBAI Conference Room. All video from the cameras is recorded and computers track movement throughout the station by monitoring card key usage.
Regular building guards are only allowing “restricted access” to WBAI's tenth floor suite. It was announced in the wee hours of December 23rd, that things would go “back to normal” as of Tuesday, December 26, 2000. In fact “restricted access” continues to be enforced to this day.
Only Paid and Unpaid Staff whose names are on a Management-generated list are being allowed into the station. This has seriously disrupted the production of some programming that is not done live or that has heavily produced segments.
The WBAI LAB has been told by WBAI Management that it cannot hold its regular, bimonthly meetings at WBAI anymore. The reason given was that WBAI Management doesn't want listeners coming into the station. Ironically, the WBAI LAB's membership mostly consists of listeners! The WBAI LAB tried to hold its regular meeting at WBAI on the evening of January 23rd, 2001. Management refused to allow this and in the end nine were arrested, two of whom were LAB members. One person who sat in at WBAI on that night has been tried, convicted of criminal trespass and sentenced to time served while being booked, no jail time, no fine. The case of the other arrestees is still grinding its way through the courts.
The main concern of WBAI Management was that listeners who oppose current Management would gain access to the station. A mandated part of the LAB meeting agenda is a “Public Comment” session. In order to have public comment the LAB must allow the public to attend the meeting. This is why their meetings have now been banned from the station by WBAI Management.
WBAI Management has issued a memo to all Staff demanding personal information and photo ID. WBAI Management now demands that all Staff, including Unpaid Staff, give Management copies of photo ID, full details of addresses and other data before they can receive one of the card keys that will give them restricted, time limited access to WBAI's premises.
I am no longer sure of the number of WBAI Staff who have been banned from the station premises. Some are claiming that the number is over 20. If this is the case I do not know who most of them are. It is reported that at a meeting on Tuesday, December 26, Interim General Manager Utrice Leid refused to say why additional Staff had been banned stating, “They know why they were banned. They did extreme things.” Three Unpaid Staff were banned as of December 26, and another Unpaid Staff member was banned from WBAI on Wednesday, December 27th. Mimi Rosenberg, who did the program Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report, and who has been at WBAI for 32 years was told in a letter dated February 5, that she's been removed from the air and that she is now banned from the station. The letter also informed Ms. Rosenberg that she would be arrested if she came to WBAI. This banning is the subject of a grievance filed by the WBAI Union.
When Building Bridges: Your Community and Labor Report co-host Ken Nash read a statement on the air concerning the banning of his co-host Mimi Rosenberg on March 5th, he was interrupted by WBAI General Manager Utrice Leid bursting into the studio and cutting him and his guest Brooklyn Congressman Major Owens off as they discussed the current WBAI crisis. On March 8th, Congressman Owens made a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives about this incident and the current crisis.
On May 15, 2001, Congressman Owens and the Congressional Progressive Caucus held a forum on the Pacifica crisis in Washington, D.C. You can listen to the Congressional forum here. Perhaps as a result of this probe Pacifica National Board member Michael Palmer resigned.
After a pause of a couple of months WBAI Management has resumed banning people. Robert Lederer and Robert Knight have been banned in August.
Here are the initial documents issued by Management regarding the firings and bannings. Some subsequent bannings may not have been put in writing.
On December 26th, Utrice Leid and Bessie Wash spoke together on WBAI. Does it sound as if Ms. Leid was surprised more than once by what Ms. Wash said?
Utrice Leid has said that she is committed to renegotiating a Union Contract with WBAI Staff. Union and Management have been renewing the Contract on a monthly basis since April 1996, when then Pacifica Executive Director Pat Scott and ousted WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler began an action with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which eventually resulted in all Unpaid Staff being removed from the WBAI Collective Bargaining Unit and Union. The WBAI Union had been attempting to resume Contract negotiations since the NLRB decision came down, but Van Isler had resisted for more than a year.
In a move spearheaded by those illegally hired by Management since the Midnight Coup the Paid Staff are considering switching Unions.
Pacifica Management has apparently taken the official WBAI Web site back from opponents of current Interim General Manager Utrice Leid. A mirror site of the opponents' version of the WBAI web site still exists.
A number of people are taping most of the relevant programs that are being broadcast on both WBAI and elsewhere, as well as taping meetings. Lyn Gerry's Free Pacifica! Web site is endeavoring to make audio from all of these programs and events available, along with some transcripts of them.
The WBAI Union has issued statements regarding the Midnight coup and its aftermath.
Pacifica Management used the law firm Epstein, Becker & Green, which one of its new Board Members, John Murdock works for, to attempt to shut down two listener Web sites. They eventually gave up on this assault on free speech. Pacifica Management has since fired Epstein, Becker & Green as their lawyers.
This page and this site will be updated as events warrant. I'm putting the most recent updates in red so that people who repeatedly come to this page can find what's new more easily.
I've been holding off on publishing my own opinions on the current crisis at WBAI because I don't want anyone to get the misimpression that I'm speaking for anyone but myself. However, I've said enough elsewhere so that I should put my own opinions on this Web site. To find out what my thoughts are on the current crisis CLICK HERE.
On Thursday, November 30, 2000, WBAI General Manager Valerie Van Isler held a meeting of WBAI Department Heads in her office. At that meeting she told them that Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Bessie Wash had told her that she could either accept a job at Pacifica National in Washington, D.C. or she could take a severance package.
Van Isler's last official day on the job was supposed to be Friday, December 1, 2000. She was to begin training a replacement on Monday, December 4, 2000. She would be allowed four weeks to train the interim replacement.
Van Isler does not accept her removal and is rallying supporters to protest this action to Pacifica National. A “Report to the Listener” was broadcast on WBAI on Friday, December 1. Van Isler's removal was discussed on that program with Van Isler present. To go to a page that will allow you to listen to or download the audio of the part of that broadcast that relates to Van Isler's removal click here.
On Monday, December 4, no one showed up to be “trained” for the position of WBAI General Manager.
On Tuesday, December 5, Pacifica Foundation Executive Director Bessie Wash showed up in the afternoon and spoke about the current crisis with whatever Staff were present at WBAI at the time. Immediately after speaking to the Staff members she delivered a letter of termination to Valerie Van Isler, telling her that she would be terminated as WBAI General Manager as of January 1, 2001.
The following memo is from the WBAI “Management Team.” The only people at WBAI who are Management are Valerie Van Isler and Program Director Bernard White.
The following is an E-mail containing a letter to Pacifica Management from Ms. Magazine.
The group Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting has issued the following media advisory:
The KPFK Listeners Group has also issued a statement.
The KPFK Listeners Group opposes the efforts of the Pacifica Foundation to remove the Manager of its New York station- Valerie Van Isler of WBAI- on the grounds that this removal is an unmistakable effort on the part of Pacifica to censor the broadcast content of WBAI as a whole.
We also hold that the role of the Corporation for Public Braodcasting in encouraging the censorship of WBAI programming must be criticized and opposed by all Pacifica listeners, staff and management.
We are deeply concerned, given the efforts on Pacifica's part to censor Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzales and “Democracy Now!,” that Pacifica has chosen this juncture to target Ms. Van Isler, who had been playing a role in defending “Democracy Now!” from its would-be censors.
The creativity and political daring of the WBAI staff and the programming they produce make that station an invaluable resource for the New York community, a resource that must be guarded from all external efforts to weaken it.
Finally, while our own position is that further cooperation with the illegally constituted Pacifica National Board of Directors is futile, we support all efforts by the WBAI staff, management and its Local Advisory Board to maintain their autonomy and self -determination, and all efforts to resist the censorship of WBAI programming and the removal of Van Isler as WBAI's manager.
The following letter was written and approved during the regularly scheduled monthly Tri-County meeting of various KPFA listener groups including members of North Bay for KPFA, the Coalition for a Democratic Pacifica and The Marin Peace and Justice Center Taskforce
December 3, 2000
We are outraged that Pacifica is attempting to remove the manager of WBAI against the stated wishes of the WBAI management team and without a process which includes the larger WBAI community.
We support your heroic efforts to retain control of WBAI and ensure progressive access to the air waves of New York City.
We support all opposition efforts including
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