More than 100 people marched outside KPFA headquarters on Martin Luther King Street at noon on Thursday to protest looming staff cuts.

The protesters, made up of paid and volunteer staff at the radio station and representatives from the Communication Workers of America, contend that a forthcoming proposal to cut workers is unnecessary. While the economic downturn has reduced donations by $500,000 and put a strain on KPFA’s $3.6 million budget, the real problem is not the local station, but Pacifica Foundation, the national board that oversees KPFA and four other stations around the country, according to the protesters.

KPFA raises enough money from its listeners to pay for itself. But it is obligated to subsidize the Pacifica Foundation, which is top heavy with bureaucracy, spends extravagantly to hold quarterly board meetings, and uses space rent free from KPFA – but then turns around and charges the radio station for other things, according to the protesters. The foundation is demanding that KPFA cut its budget so it can increase the amount it pays to Pacifica.

“We’re here because we understand there is a plan afoot to cut ¼ of the staff at the station,” said Sasha Lilley, a co-host of the noon public affairs program “Against the Grain.” “These are difficult times economically but there are alternatives to cutting staff.”

But members of the Pacifica Foundation board who were milling around the protest said that their board is the fiscally prudent one and that KPFA has been running a deficit and living above its means for years. It currently owes Pacifica more than $250,000. The only responsible way to balance KPFA’s budget is to reduce its paid staff, and go back to the staffing levels of 2003.

“In a perfect world we would like to have 100 employees,” said Tracy Rosenberg, a member of the Pacifica Foundation Board and managing director of Media Alliance. “There’s a lot of news out there to cover but it has not proved sustainable.”

Pacifica Executive Director Arlene Engelhardt is expected to announce staff in the next few days.

The fight between KPFA and Pacifica Foundation is reminiscent of the battle that took place in 1999 and tore apart the oldest listener-sponsored radio group in the United States. That fight was also a power struggle between the national organization and its locals, and it involved Pacifica locking out KPFA staff members for two weeks and firing station manager Nicola Sawaya and popular radio host Larry Bensky.

To get more details on KPFA’s side of the story, including a look at a budget staffers have suggested to Pacifica, look here and here and here.

For Pacifica’s perspective, look here and here.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...