Public radio outlets haven’t been immune from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic as listener and corporate donations have dried up. Now San Diego is the backdrop as KPBS (89.5) plans to cut some positions and scale back others. The SAG-AFTRA local chapter said it has been told that three workers will be laid-off as of July 1. Another eight will have their hours cut in half. The union said it tried to work with management on alternatives, including buyouts, pay cuts, or a work sharing program, but it says KPBS bosses failed to consider any option. Reps say management never even showed up to some negotiating sessions.
“They have also refused to help shoulder the burden by cutting their own pay,” the union said in a statement. “Instead, they have cut from the bottom, targeting some of our lowest-paid members, many of whom have worked for KPBS for decades.” SAG-AFTRA said the layoffs also undermined efforts to offer a more diverse workforce with three minorities among those being dismissed.
But KPBS management told the San Diego Union-Tribune that it had already cut $800,000 in expenses so far this year and the radio-TV outlet still faces a six-figure loss for 2020. “Even though our audience numbers are up across TV, radio and digital, we have experienced a drop in key revenue areas, including underwriting, membership and donor support,” General Manager Tom Karlo told the paper. “We are hopeful that this will be a temporary change and that we will be able to weather the storm and bring back our staff to full-time,” he added.
The layoffs come at the same time KPBS is moving ahead with plans to spend $3.2 million to remodel its newsroom as part of a $40 million renovation of its broadcast complex on the San Diego State University campus. That money comes from donations that were specifically donated during a capital campaign. But SAG-AFTRA members say it doesn’t look good.
“We feel this project reflects a culture of valuing big, shiny prestige projects over the hardworking employees who make KPBS,” the union said. “Of all the things our station needs to fulfill its mission, the building is nowhere near the top of our list.”
During the last several months public radio outlets, including Boston University-owned WBUR-FM Boston (90.9), Minneapolis-based American Public Media, and NPR have all announced layoffs and other cutbacks.