Thursday, June 30, 2016
You don't got mail!
If you are among the thousands of listeners who responded to a WBAI pledge drive but never received the "premium" (product) you paid for, the following will probably answer some of your questions. It is a response posted by Mitchel Cohen to a discussion of WBAI's botched fulfillment procedures. The exchange has been taking place on Pacifica Radio Waves, a California-base listserv operated by Nalini.
The green text at the end is my response to Mitchel.
Mitchel Cohen — June 30, 2016
WBAI rents a stamping machine from NeoPost. The station pays $250 per month for its rental, apart from all other costs associated with mailing out premiums. That's $3,000 per year.
Alarmed at the costs, our volunteer team listed the things we needed the system to do. When NeoPost told us they couldn't do much of it, we did a lot of "comparison shopping".
It's amazing how the different companies -- including the online system of the US Postal Service -- have backwards and poorly designed interfaces in ways that they could easily correct ... but don't. We spent many hours on the phone and internet talking with the different companies looking for a system that would interface directly with our MEMSYS database so that we would not have to re-type each and every mailing label (which is what NeoPost required and which WBAI had been doing for years, along with the inevitable errors that ensued). We also wanted a system that would provide accurate receipts for every item mailed.
We settled on and worked out the kinks in a new process utilizing Stamps.com, which charges $16 per month. A few months ago we put it into effect, hopefully saving WBAI much in the way of funds, and freeing up a lot of time.
We discovered that the NeoPost machine was overcharging us in postage for almost all of the premiums we'd sent out for the last few years, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
Volunteers, out of our own pockets (thanks for those donations go primarily to volunteers Marilyn Vogt-Downey, Ed Mayberger and Jack Shalom, who have retired from their working-class jobs), paid for the postage for hundreds of outstanding premiums that other volunteers had packaged over many months. They gifted the purchase of necessary equipment to the station -- a postage scale, a new mailing label printer, and a few incidentals. (Ed also purchased, donated and installed new LED lights which draw around 1/8th the wattage than the regular incandescents we had been using and are advertised to last for many years, potentially saving WBAI thousands of dollars each year in energy bills.)
As a result, we are now completely caught up with the backlog of premiums to be mailed, so long as we have them in stock.
That's the kicker, though. What about all those premiums that we don't have in stock? There remain around 3,000 premiums to ship from past fund drives -- perhaps a little less, given the work we've been doing. Management needs to order those premiums for us to ship.
Next step: Management should authorize our team to coordinate premiums packaging and mailing on our own. There's actually no need for management to be part of this process any longer. It should allocate some reasonable amount -- say, $2,000 per month -- and set up a credit card to be refilled automatically that we can draw upon, with the directive that it will be used exclusively to catch up on sending outstanding premiums. The station would then have a clear record of what has been paid and where it is going.
Yet we still are paying a monthly lease on the NeoPost machine that we no longer need for postaging premiums. It's now used primarily for mailing letter-sized notices and invoices several times a year. There are other ways to do this that would cost us much less than what we're paying for the NeoPost machine.
It seems that WBAI owes NeoPost around $10,377, and is paying to NeoPost interest on that debt of 17.5% plus regularly charged late fees. Our last payment was on March 30, with the next payment of $1,519 due on July 21st. The interest alone on the NeoPost debt adds up to about $180/month, and it increases a few dollars each month.
As I'd written a number of months ago, we could and should renegotiate the debt to NeoPost and end our contract with them. We would argue that the amount WBAI owes is more than offset by the over-pricing we paid in postage due to their machine's mischarges after it was re-calibrated several times by their maintainance and repair persons.
Finally, WBAI management has apparently decided to add to MEMSYS a database system provided directly by Give2WBAI.org (Volusion -- a separate, private company). This MIGHT be a good idea, as currently -- again for reasons that I find inexplicable -- the info for each donor has to be compiled and imported into MEMSYS by hand, rather than seamlessly and automatically integrated into our MEMSYS database. (The same holds for BAI Buddies.) BUT, I have seen no written analysis of the existing situation, nor proposal in writing that provides step by step changes to be made. Management should put into writing its proposal before mandating these sort of changes and circulate it to skilled producers (computer show; off the hook; others) and the volunteers who are actually doing this work, so that we can isolate, think through, and troubleshoot potential problems as much as possible before the new system is put into effect.
I want to thank the following volunteers, again, who have been working on the packaging and shipping of premiums: Ed Mayberger, Jack Shalom, Matt Mazza, Maxine Harrison-Gallmon and her daughter Lauren, Marilyn Vogt-Downey, Larissa Bills, David Barouh, Michael Ochoa, Bob Schulof, and the Monday team from the Brooklyn Day-Hab. And for the extensive work that Vijay Dharmapuri, Carmen Moreno, Jim Sagurton, Maya Charles, Nanette Kripke, Jim Dingeman and Kevin Keating had been doing on that score earlier in the year.
Response: A year or two ago, WBAI started airing a spot read, I think, by Kathy Davis, informing prospective pledgers that a shipping and handling fee would be added to their “donation.”
There was no mention of the amount nor if there was a fixed fee. I heard that spot several times, but never mentioned in a pitch. It struck me as devious, especially since WBAI’s prices for the advertised products and services are outrageously inflated. Another rip-off that targets the listeners, I thought as I wondered about the legality.
Now we are told that thousands of products, already paid for by the listeners, either remain undelivered due to lack of postage money or because they were never purchased from the manufacturer. Furthermore, we learn that WBAI has—using its own disk copier—been performing unauthorized duplication of CD/DVD disks containing someone else’s intellectual property. This is not only immoral, it is illegal.
The fact that money was charged for shipping and handling that didn’t take place, means that it was misappropriated—I believe that, too, is against the law.
Knowing all that, obviously first-hand, I don’t see how you can continue to be a part of it. Criticizing Berthold Reimers, as you now do more directly, does not free you from being implicated.
I am by no means the only one who has warned against Reimers’ illegal actions and neglect. Others have also attempted to contact the station and, I believe the PNB, to alert board members, but those warnings, as well as suggested legitimate fundraising ideas are routinely ignored.
Mitchel, please give much thought to the sponsoring victims and explain how you can lower yourself into such moral turpitude. —Chris