Strike leads to Wash. Spanish radio conflict
By MANUEL VALDES, Associated Press Writer
SEATTLE — Washington state's first Spanish-language public radio station, a key source of information for the Latino community in the Yakima Valley, is scrambling to fill air time amid a dispute between a new station director and her newly unionized employees.
A strike by the small work force has led Granger-based Radio KDNA to use on-air content from stations in California, and volunteers to fill in for the production team, which walked off the job May 16 in the latest and the most heated episode of a long-simmering internal fight.
For more than two days, the station went silent.
"It's sad. It's not fair. The information from the station goes out to the public, and it's very important for the whole community," said Velia Lewis, who works with farmworkers in the Yakima Valley and has listened to KDNA since moving to the central Washington area in 1996.
Lewis said KDNA plays an important part in the community through its news and public service announcements. Unlike other stations in the area, she said, it's not an entertainment station.
"When I moved here, I didn't know where to look for jobs, or where to interview. KDNA helped me in getting to know the community in Yakima," Lewis said in Spanish.
Radio KDNA started in 1979, pioneering public radio in Spanish for the Pacific Northwest. The station started serving the area's Latino farmworker population in the heavily agricultural region. Over the years, the station has cemented its role in the Yakima area as one of that community's main sources of information.
Yard sales, health care announcements and parenting tips are among the many subjects the programming covers. The station is part of the nonprofit organization Northwest Communities' Education Center Board.
The strike is "having a huge impact," said Sandra Aguilar, who works for Catholic Charities Housing Services and knows the station's role in Yakima. "The greatest impact is on the agency itself, and but it's also impacting the listeners a lot, it's impacting at a large scale, it's impacting the farm workers, they're not getting information."
Maria Fernandez, 35, was hired by the station's board of directors last year to replace Ricardo Garcia, the station's longtime manager.
Fernandez and her staff clashed almost immediately. Then the small staff unionized, becoming part of the Teamsters Union Local 760. Accusations began flying between the two feuding parties. Nine of the 13 paid staffers are out in the strike.
Fernandez said her attempts to introduce a stricter work environment and more accountability led to discontent among her employees. She also has started changing programming to attempt to reach a broader audience.
"I believe if we're going to be good stewards of taxpayer money, and we're going to get paid for eight hours of work, we should work for eight hours," Fernandez said. "It's sad that it has to come down to this point, we've been trying to work with them in good faith. I expected many challenges when I took the job. I couldn't have foreseen one being a strike."
Jesus Sosa, speaking on behalf of the workers, said Fernandez has unjustly reprimanded workers and has introduced a hostile work place environment, where employees can't express disagreements with management.
The strike was called after Fernandez fired two employees, said Sosa, who is the station's production manager.
The strikers want "the return of the employees, and a stop to this anti-worker attitude," he said. "They look for anything that we do bad to get us, instead of talking to us, giving us training."
Sosa said the union has filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. Meanwhile, Fernandez said the station can be sustained by volunteers for as long as needed.
"There's has to be mediation because I think people are digging their feet in," Aguilar said. "Ultimately, the station's purpose is to serve the people, it's a voice for the farmworker. I think people need to remember the work they're doing."