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IWA Demands Safe Jobs and Clean Water

By Tim Skaggs, Business Agent, IWA Local 3-98 - reprinted in Hard Times, February 1983

This speech was given at a hearing of the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in December of 1982.

My name is Tim Skaggs. I am Past President and now Business Agent of the International Woodworkers of America, Local 3-98.

In March of this year, the governing body of International Woodworkers of America resolved that the continued use of Phenoxy herbicides in place of manual conifer release has an adverse effect upon employment opportunities in the Pacific Northwest.

If we look at the historical record, we find that the practices of timber companies have been extremely poor and irresponsible. Outrageous forest practices led to the adoption of regulations to protect the water, wildlife, and the multiple uses of public and private lands.

Massive clear cutting caused substantial erosion and stream siltation, resulting in a loss of water quality. Indeed the use of herbicides is directly related to the reliance upon clear cutting as the primary method for timber harvesting.

Most importantly, and least understood, is the acquisition of additional lands from timber interests to expand Redwood National Park. This move has cost us all dearly, with the exception of timber interests. The workers have suffered, but in a good cause. These lands were purchased to insure the continued existence of old growth redwood and to do the restoration work needed to prevent the eventual death of Redwood Creek from siltation. The park, a public project, was created to do what timber corporations refused to do: treat the land and water responsibly.

It is important to note that the industry refused to change their methods until they were forced to do so by public pressure and regulation. It appears that the major motivation for the timber industry is profit regardless of the expense to the community, workers, and the environment.

The International Woodworkers of America is most deeply concerned with two aspects of the application of Phenoxy herbicides in forest lands worker health and safety, and increasing job opportunities.

Phenoxies have resulted in documented permanent disabilities to workers in tree farms, as tree planters, as back pack sprayers, as pilots of helicopters and as workers in the woods, both during and after spraying.

In contrast, Georgia-Pacific asserts, without basis in truth, that hand cutting is not practical, in part due to the difficult and unsafe working conditions. However, Georgia-Pacific sent crews of workers into these same conditions to harvest old growth and presumably will send them in again for thinning and harvesting. We demand that Georgia-Pacific’s assertions be documented, knowing that they will not be, since timber did not choose aerial spraying for reasons of worker safety.

Before encouraging timber to increase the provably dangerous spraying for such spurious safety reasons, we demand that the alternative of manual release be given a just opportunity to compete. It is nearly laughable that supporting papers such as Georgia-Pacific’s always represent the choice of spraying as a “job producer.”

Recent timber company management decisions are responsible for depression level unemployment in Humboldt County. There have been numerous plant shutdowns in our region with the loss of 1,000 jobs since 1981, due primarily to the misuse of resources. Log exporting has replaced local milling with three of every five logs harvested in Humboldt County leaving here in raw form. Where mills are operating, jobs have been lost to automation. Both exportation and automation have caused far more job losses than G-P’s inflated figure of 368 jobs to be lost by not spraying, and there has been absolutely no reinvestment here by the three major timber companies, including Georgia-Pacific, who will eventually receive over a billion dollars for their lands in Redwood National Park.

It is almost with a sneer that labor intensive forest management such as manual release is discarded in favor of spraying. What kind of scrooge must it take to deny people jobs now in return for some “pie-inthe-sky” job 60 to 80 years from now? Timber’s choice to spray is consistent with their past choices—anti-labor and pro-huge profit—profits at the expense of the community of people who you serve as members of this board.

Before encouraging timber to increase the use of aerial application of herbicides in trade for phantom jobs for our great-grandchildren, we demand that the alternative of manual release be given a just opportunity to compete.

The burden of proof should be placed where it belongs on corporations such as Georgia-Pacific to answer fully, scientifically and logically all the heretofore unanswered questions about the benefits and dangers of Phenoxy herbicide use. They should especially be responsive to questions of strict liability.

We must remember that timber interests have so greatly profited by the worst of timberland management practices while the taxpayers and workers have suffered from their bad management decisions with plant shutdowns and the tragic effects of unemployment.

We must resist unproven assertions of gain through spray over jobs now. We must demand that until timber solicits competitive bids for manual release, no argument of fiscal risk should be accepted. We should resist allowing water quality to suffer for profit, while employment and water quality would improve through job creating alternatives.

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