Angry Czech EmployeeBBG Watch Commentary

BBG Watch has learned that a number of Czech employees of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) in Prague have sent an anonymous letter to the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) complaining about their bonuses being cut and being treated by the RFE/RL management as if they were working in a communist country. Referring to a declaration the RFE/RL management reportedly requested the employees to sign to agree to a reduction in their summer allowance bonus, the authors of the letter wrote: “This is how elections worked during the communist times: almost 100% of people voted, because if someone did not vote, the party knew who it was.” The Czech employees also expressed solidarity with the fired Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow.

BBG Watch has learned that the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Vice President for Administration Dale Cohen, who was one of the executives involved in the mass firing of Radio Liberty journalists in Moscow and presented it as voluntary terminations, denied that Czech employees did not receive their bonuses and accused the authors of the letter of not telling the truth.

“Dear BBG,

We are writing again about our letter from July, to protest about Steven Korn cutting the pay of Czech contract employees by taking away the summer allowance.

We understand that at your meeting this week you will discuss the situation in Moscow. We sympathize with the people who were fired in Moscow, but also hope that you will not forget about us.

Mr. Korn has cut the pay of Czech contract employees in Prague by 4%, as we describe in our letter from July. The money was already part of an approved budget. Instead of the summer allowance in June, we were offered a 2% “performance award” in November (for some people maybe more, if their supervisors approved). To get the 2% we had to sign a Declaration, “electing” to receive it and agreeing that it was a one-time payment. It said:

“I, ___, hereby elect to take part in the 2012 Performance Award Program. As a participant, I understand that for 2012 only I will receive a minimum performance award of 2% of my gross annual base salary and have the potential for a higher amount. By signing this declaration, I waive and release RFE/RL from all legal claims related to the discontinuation of the bonus program known as the “Summer Allowance” in 2012 and I confirm that I do not have any such claims against RFE/RL”

Of course people signed the Declaration, because 2% is better than 0%, but we felt forced to sign. If anyone did not sign, management would know who. This is how elections worked during the communist times: almost 100% of people voted, because if someone did not vote, the party knew who it was.

This program was announced by Dale Cohen, VP of Administration, and Donna Black, Human Resources Director. In an email announcing this, Mr. Cohen wrote: “… most employees supported greater investments in health care and better working conditions in the bureaus …”.

We disagree with “most employees”. Mr. Cohen did not ask us. If he asked, of course, we still would not feel free to disagree, just like in the communist elections.

The result is that beginning in fiscal year 2013 Czech contract employees have lost all of the 4%. We are already the lowest paid group of employees in Prague, and our pay has been cut. At the same time, as we understand, Mr. Korn still makes money available for extra advantages for himself and his friends in top management, for expensive travel tickets and hotels, high housing allowances, and other benefits.

Please correct this situation and return our missing 4% of pay.

Thank you.”

BBG Watch has learned that Dale Cohen, RFE/RL Vice President for Administration, made the following comments on the contents of the employees’ letter to the BBG:

“It is not true that Czech employees received a pay cut in fiscal 2013. Many of our best performers received larger bonuses than they did under the summer allowance system and, on average, Czech employees did better.

It is not true that Czech employees have “lost all of the 4%” summer allowance.

It is not true that employees felt forced to sign the “Declaration”. In fact, the Declaration was required under the terms of the Agreement with the trade union. Trade union reps were uncertain about their ability to bind employees to the terms of the Agreement. So the parties agreed to have each employee review the terms and agree to the transition of the bonus programs.

Finally, it is not true that there is anything to “restore” for the Czech contract employees. Under the terms of our collective bargaining agreement, the Company had the right to modify the summer allowance bonus program; there was no entitlement to the bonuses or the 4% figure.”

According to sources, Dale Cohen wrote to the BBG: “All of our employees, ex-pat and Czech, will all be treated equally in one performance-based annual bonus program. That’s an enhancement for both the company and its employees.”

This looks to us like an organization in deep crisis. RFE/RL executives also presented a document to Radio Liberty employees in Moscow whom they wanted to fire, offering them no choice but to resign. They later claimed that these employees voluntarily agreed to be terminated and were treated generously and with great respect. Leading Russian human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeeva, who witnessed the firings first hand, disagreed and accused RFE/RL President Steven Korn of treating his employees even worse than “repugnant wild Russian capitalists” treat theirs. Not to mention that the same RFE/RL executives used guards to prevent journalists from entering the Moscow bureau, sent them instead to a law firm, and later prevented them from saying good bye to their radio and online audiences of many years. No doubt Mr. Cohen would also question these facts. But we think they show perfectly well what RFE/RL top brass thinks of their employees, both in Moscow and in Prague.

Foreign RFE/RL employees — non-Czechs and non-Americans — working in the Czech Republic have even fewer rights than Czech employees. The RFE/RL management denies them the key protections of the current Czech labor law by insisting on using a provision of the communist era law that granted similar exemptions to Soviet companies in Czechoslovakia. Two former RFE/RL employees, both women, are suing RFE/RL. One of the lawsuits is in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

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