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Jobs vs Ecology, a Dilemma Manufactured by the Profit System: Part 2

By Andrea Bauer - Originally published at Freedom Socialist, May 1991

Part One of "Jobs vs. Ecology" discussed the debate over the spotted owl, the state of the forests, and the corporate timber barons. This concluding installment looks at conditions for timber workers, the environmental movement, and what action can be taken to preserve both jobs and nature.

‘Owl vs. Man' was the headline for Time magazine's multi-page spread on the bird's listing as a threatened species last year.

'Owl vs. Man.' Them vs. us. Polluters and exploiters like to see environmental issues framed this way, as if a sound ecology were inimical to human interests. If we accept this view, they profit. Meanwhile, we suffer.

Why? Because the "environment" doesn't just include plant and animal subspecies few people have even heard of until their survival is in question. "Environment" also means everything from where toxic waste is dumped to the fact that our immune systems are weakened by the degradation of the planet’s ozone layer.

The environment's quality means life or death for working people. Ecology is our issue, and we need to claim it in order to turn things around.

Cutting forests, squeezing workers. It is big business, not ecology, that is hostile to most human interests. Nowhere is this truth more stark than in the timber industry.

Harry Merlo, CEO for timber giant Louisiana-Pacific (L-P), summed up the corporations' attitude to natural resources in these words: "We log to infinity. Because we need it all. It's ours. It's out there, and we need it all. Now."

The companies consider workers in the same way-as a resource to be purchased as cheaply and exploited as thoroughly as possible. L-P is the outfit which closed a California mill in order to reopen it in Mexico, where they pay the employees 87 cents an hour. They are also willing to murder their workers to keep profits high.

In September 1989, at the L-P sawmill in Ukiah, California, a worker named Fortunado Reyes was mangled to death when he climbed onto a conveyor belt to clear it of jammed lumber. The machines were supposed to be turned off before a jam was cleared, but workers were bullied into disregarding safety rules in order not to slow production down.

The way L-P operates is the norm. In February 1989, at a Georgia-Pacific (G-P) lumber mill in Fort Bragg, California, a pipe burst in Frank Murray's face, causing him to swallow oil full of carcinogenic PCBs.

At the hospital, the company tried to prevent his stomach being pumped, claiming the substance was just mineral oil. The spill area was not closed off, and sixteen people were contaminated and three shifts of workers endangered before the G-P stopped stonewalling.

The union, International Woodworkers Association (IWA), refused to represent the contaminated workers. IWA later tried to cut a deal with G-P that would have reduced an OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) fine for "willful poisoning."

Jobs vs Ecology, a Dilemma Manufactured by the Profit System: Part 1

By Andrea Bauer - Originally published at Freedom Socialist, February 1991

Two endangered species of the Pacific Northwest are front-page news these days — the northern spotted owl and the logger. Portrayed as irreconcilable antagonists, they are in fact ecological kin, dependent on the same environment. Their existence is threatened by the same voracious predator — the timber industry.

The ancient forests which once covered the greater part of the U.S. have sustained both the logger and the owl. Now these forests are nearly gone, with most of the remaining old-growth stands concentrated in an ever-thinner and spottier strip running along the western Cascades through Washington, Oregon, and northern California.

The fates of owl and logger are indissolubly bound up with their habitat — which is disappearing at the rate of nearly 70,000 acres every year.

This isn’t the case for the corporations whose chainsaws are leveling the forests. The whole planet is their “habitat,” and the redwood or the Douglas fir just another commodity.

When corporate raider Harold Simmons is through clearcutting the old growth he acquired in 1984 near Butte Falls, Oregon, for example, he will still have another means of survival: a two-billion-dollar empire in sugar, petroleum, chemicals, and fast-food restaurants.

The immediate fact is that protecting the owl will mean the loss of between 25,000 and 50,000 timber jobs in the next decade. But the bigger truth is that the timber companies’ feeding frenzy has already brought about a sharp, continuing decline in the number of industry jobs — as well as the near-annihilation of an irreplaceable resource, the ancient forest, which is a vital part of the planet’s overall life-support system.

Owl, forest, earth. The spotted owl is an unlikely candidate to have gained such notoriety, attracted so many champions, and earned so many enemies. Mostly nocturnal, the owls stand two feet tall or less and weigh little more than a pound. They claim territory in pairs, staying in the same home areas for as long as they can.

After years of foot-dragging and resistance, the Fish and Wildlife Service in June 1990 listed the spotted owl as a threatened species. This means that the government is required by the Endangered Species Act to guard the owl’s survival — and for its survival it needs extensive quantities of very old forest. It thrives in the unmanaged forest, with its variety of tree species and types of wildlife, many standing dead trees, and, on the forest floor, messy natural litter.

The owl is an “indicator species” for the ancient forest ecosystem. It’s the canary in the mine. The health or precariousness of the forest and its other inhabitants mirrors the owl’s status.

The old-growth forest provides a home for thousands of species, many of whom cannot survive in any other type of environment. For humans, it provides a home away from home, a refuge and renewal. For scientists, it is an incomparable data bank and laboratory.

Even more fundamentally, the kinds of life that exist on earth today can not exist without the forests. Almost all of the water we use flows ultimately from forests, and forests help prevent flooding and erosion.

Workers, Corporations, and Redwood Summer: Whose Side Are We On?

Judi Bari, et. al, Redwood Summer Coalition – from the Redwood Summer Handbook, second edition, ca June 1990

When you’re sitting in front of a bulldozer or walking a picket line and an angry logger is screaming at you to “Get a Job!” and “Go Home!,” it’s easy to forget that timber workers are not our enemies. And when they see thousands of college students and other environmental activists from out of the area coming to the Northcoast threatening their livelihoods (as they see it), it’s easy for them to see us as the enemy too.

This is a tragic mistake, for workers and environmentalists are natural allies. Loggers and mill-workers are victimized by the giant timber companies. Since their whole way of life—their jobs, homes, families—depends on unsustainable forest practices, we must make the timber companies pay for the education, retraining and job placement needed to cushion the blow of conversion to ecologically health timber practices. It’s easy for us—since our future and our kids’ future does not depend on continued over-logging—to demand others to sacrifice for the good of the planet, but without concrete support to make change possible; they will not listen seriously.

Over the years, timber workers have been subject to some of the most dangerous working conditions in the country, as well as speedups, low pay, low/no benefits, and near-total company control over their lives. Fighting to better their conditions, Pacific Coast loggers and millworkers have a long history of militant unionism. The logging camps of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia were strongholds of the Industrial Workers of the World. Early timber unions, including the IWA (International Woodworkers of America) were radical unions, and often led bitter strikes which the corporations violently put down. From early on, the woodsworkers witnessed and protested the destruction of streams, hillsides and forests caused by company practices of maximizing profit at the expense of both the land and the workers. Indeed, the workers knew better than anyone what was going on in the woods, but lacked the power to stop it. In our capitalist “free market” economy, it is companies, not workers who control production.

In The Middle of Run Away History: Judi Bari, Earth First! Organizer – Mississippi Summer in the California Redwoods

Interviewed by Beth Bosk – New Settler Interview, Issue #49, May 1990

Judi Bari: Tomorrow I’m going to Oregon. There’s an Environmental Law conference up there. I was invited to speak on a panel about labor and the environment.

Last week, I received a call at my home, at night, from a nasty­sounding man who identified himself by name and said he was from the Western Council of Industrial Workers, which is the AF of L union which represents mill workers up there.

He warned me that I better not set foot in Oregon. And he said that if any of his union members talked to me they’d be out of a job—and various other vague threats.

He also called the conferences organizers and the university, telling them I shouldn’t be allowed to speak there. This panel, on labor and the environment, is made up of me—I somehow got on it—a university professor of physics, and the owner of a company who makes fancy yuppie houses out of old growth wood and doesn’t want the old growth eliminated. This is their idea of a “Labor” panel.

I gave the organizers the name of a rank-and-file mill worker one hour from them, but they never contacted him. He called them, and they wouldn’t let him be on the panel. And this is a union man who has spoken out in public for the spotted owl and against the yellow ribbon campaign in Oregon.

I’m going to Oregon to cede my spot on this panel to this courageous man. The panel is called “Labor and the Environment: Bridging the Gap.” Yet they can’t even bridge the gap enough to let a single rank and file worker speak on the panel, so I’m going to cede my spot to him.

Earth First! Replies to Critics

By Judi Bari – Santa Rosa Press Democrat, April 10, 1990

Charges against Earth First! have been flying lately. Spearheaded by Louisiana-Pacific, state Sen. Barry Keene, and International Woodworkers of America union representative Don Nelson.

They accuse us of being somehow responsible for L-P’s recent decision to lay off 195 workers because of the “hostile political climate” we have supposedly created on the North Coast, and they accuse of us provoking violence with our call for a “Mississippi Summer” of mass nonviolent protest to save the redwoods.

This type of doublespeak seriously misrepresents the very real and intense struggle that is going on in the redwood region. It is time to set the record straight.

First, the L-P layoffs. It’s getting harder and harder to convince the people up here that environmentalists are to blame for the cruel business practices of the timber corporations. When L-P opened its redwood milling operation in Mexico it showed us how little it cares for employees or our community. If L-P officials can get people to work for $85 cents an hour in Mexico instead of the $7 an hour they pay at the Ukiah mill, then that’s where they’re going to send the trees and jobs.

But this latest round of layoffs reflects an even more disturbing trend at L-P. If you drive the back roads of Mendocino County and see the miles of clearcuts you will know the truth—L-P has overcut the forest and destroyed the timber base.

According to the Mendocino County Forest Advisory Committee, L-P is cutting at more than twice the rate of growth in our county’s forests. This area was once the heart of the redwood ecosystem. But there is almost no old growth left in Mendocino County, and the second growth is going fast.

In 1975, the Oswald Report predicted that, if harvest rates continued, a sharp fall-down in saw-timber supply would hit in 1990. Young stands would be growing but there wouldn’t be enough mature trees to keep the area’s mills going. This prediction was right on target, but no one predicted L-P’s unconscionable response to the problem.

Rather than slowing down to save the trees and jobs, L-P kept cutting at full throttle. And instead of letting the remaining young stands mature, L-P’s President Harry Merlo began a policy of “logging to infinity,” or taking all trees regardless of size. Those that are too small to saw are chipped up and sent to pulp mills.

IWW Defends Millworkers

By Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney - Industrial Worker, March 1990

“You better not think that you can come to Oregon because you won’t find a welcome,” warned Paul Moorehead of the Western Council of Industrial Workers (WCIC). Moorehead made his threat against IWW Local #1 organizer Judi Bari upon learning that she had been invited to participate in a Labor and the Environment workshop at a Public Interest Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon. In recent months rank and file mill workers (at Georgia Pacific’s mill in Fort Bragg) have expressed an increasing reluctance to listen to their union bosses when they tell them that wage cuts are OK, or that clearcutting the forests and destroying the earth is in workers’ best interests. No doubt Moorhead and his buddies intend to spread the word about “outside agitators” who are disturbing the profitable arrangement that the WCIC, In-ternational Woodcutters of America (IWA) and other business unions have worked out with the timber companies. “If any member of my union talks to you they’ll be out of a job,” Moorhead told Bari.

Yet Moorhead’s union, the WCIC, no longer represents workers in Mendocino County, California. The union was busted there in 1986, and now only 560 of the counties’ 3,000 workers have any union “representation” at all. Most of the 560 are “represented” by IWA Local #3-469. Despite Moorhead’s general disdain for his workers, he (and others, including the IWA, and many environmentalists) have been effective stooges in the lumber companies’ manufactured conflict between the workers and environmentalists. As a result most of the timber companies’ public support comes from the union itself.

However, not all of the workers have been fooled. With the help of the IWW, mill workers are starting to talk to each other and are coming to realize that they don’t need union bureaucrats to speak for them, and that only they can defend their jobs. “People came to the IWW because their union wasn’t representing them,” said Bari.

IWW Local 1 Letters to OSHA on behalf of the IWA Rank and File Millworkers

First Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein - January 27, 1990

Re: OSRC Docket No. 89-2713.

Dear Judge Goldstein: We the undersigned, affected employees in the PCB spill at the Georgia Pacific mill in Fort Bragg, CA, (OSHRC Docket No. 89-2719) strongly urge you not to approve the settlement made by G-P and OSHA regarding this case. We believe this agreement was made without considering pertinent information, and we believe it will jeopardize the safety of workers at the G-P mill.

The settlement that was reached involved dropping the “willful” citation to “serious” and re-ducing the fine from $14,000 to $3,000. We were told by OSHA attorney Leslie Campbell that this was necessary because the toxicity of PCBs has not been established. Yet the record shows that mill-wrights Ron Atkinison and Leroy Pearl were ordered to weld in the spill area without protective clothing during two 10-hour shifts. They stood in PCB oil and welded machinery that was wet with PCBs. The welding vaporized the PCBs at high temperatures, creating dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man, and the fumes were inhaled by the millwrights as they worked.

We also feel that the case for toxicity of PCBs has recently been enhanced by a November 24, 1989 decision of the Ninth U.S, Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. This case involved workers at a Crown-Zellerbach lumber mill in Oregon, whose exposure to PCBs was significantly less than ours. Yet the court ruled that “A jury could conclude that coming into contact with PCBs at a strength sufficient to produce a body level of PCBs six to ten times higher than normal, and to trigger serious health concerns constituted an injury.” G-P lead millwright Frank Murray swallowed PCBs when they were dumped on his head, and four months later had a bodily PCB level well over 100 times the EPA standard, We are concerned that the leniency of the settlement reached by G-P and OSHA in this case will not restrain G-P from continuing to subject the workers to unsafe conditions in the mill. As recently as last month, G-P ordered Ron Atkinson and other millwrights and electricians to do maintenance work on moving, high-speed machinery. The computerized green-chain had malfunctioned and could not be locked out without causing a long downtime while the computer was reset. Only by calling CAL-OSHA were the employees able to force the company to provide instructions for lock-out procedures to maintenance employees working on the green-chain. Even after OSHA’s intervention and inspection, another employee had three fingers severed in an accident on the same machine.

Minutes of the founding meeting of IWW Local #1

Recorded by Judi Bari, x332349, November 19, 1989

The Mendocino-Humboldt General Membership Branch of the IWW held our first meeting on Sunday November 19, 1989. Fourteen (out of 24) members came.

Structure

We set up our basic structure as follows: Judi Bari was elected Corresponding Secretary and Anna Marie Stenberg was elected Financial Secretary. They were instructed to open a bank account and keep track of dues and other paperwork. Other than these utilitarian positions, we will have no officers. Decisions will be made by the members at the meetings. If events occur between meetings that require action, temporary decisions (subject to ratification at the next meeting) will be made by the Entertainment Committee. Membership on the Entertainment Committee is voluntary, and the people who volunteered were Mike Koepf, Treva VandenBosch, Judi Bari, Anna Marie Stenberg, Pete Kayes, and Bob Cooper.

Work So Far

The work of Our Branch was described: We are a General Membership Branch (GMB) and will take on whatever issues the members want, especially issues related to our workplaces. But so far our activities have been centered around providing support for timber workers who are fighting their employers’ destruction of forests, jobs, and working conditions. We hope to be a bridge between environmentalists and timber workers and help bring about community understanding of the workers’ problems.

Pete Kayes, employee of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO), in Scotia , talked about the failed attempt by workers to form an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and buy the company back from corporate raider Charles Hurwitz. Pete also gave out copies of the rank-and-file newsletter Timberlyin’ that he and others produce and distribute at the Scotia mill.

Treva VandenBosch, recently retired employee of Georgia Pacific (G-P) Corporation in Fort Bragg, told about being doused with PCBs in the G-P mill and receiving no help from the company or union (IWA Local #3-469, AFL-CIO). She walked off the job and single-handedly picketed the plant, eventually hooking up with Anna Marie and Mike (now also IWW members), who helped get the story out. The plant was finally closed for three days for clean-up, and OSHA fined G-P $14,000 for willful exposure of workers to PCB’s. G-P is appealing that decision, and the hearing will be on February 1, 1990 in San Fran-cisco. You must sign up in advance to be allowed to attend the hearing. We are asking all Wobs to sign up, even if you don’t expect to come, to demonstrate public interest. See enclosed forms.

Anna Marie told about Fort Bragg millworker Julie Wiles being arrested and led away in handcuffs for distributing a leaflet calling for fellow IWA Local #3-469 members to vote “no” on a proposed union dues increase. IWA shop stewards distributing pro-dues increase leaflets were not interfered with by the company. The IWA has not provided Julie with any support on her arrest and charges. We are asking all Wobs to come to Julie’s trial, and we have been helping her with her defense. Ten people showed up to support Julie at her arraignment.

On the Garlon Trail - A Visit to L-P Spray Site Reveals Total Forest Devastation, Ineffective Chemicals, Minimal Watershed Protection

By I.M. Green (Don Lipmanson) - Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 5, 1985

Feeling a sort of morbid fascination, I've been drawn to the L-P spray sites for weeks. What does this Garlon chemical actually do to the forest? What is the appearance and smell of a spray site? How much herbicide gets into the water?

My first attempt to find answers involved an overflight of Juan Creek and the north fork of Big River. Flying northward from Little River airport, I had the chance to compare the thinned out appearance of selectively logged forests with the bald clearcuts so prevalent northeast of Fort Bragg.

The spray sites were unmistakable on account of their striking reddish brown color, dotted with green. In addition to one large, browned out blotch, there are erratic splotches at the periphery of the spray zone, raising unanswered questions about drift. It was also clear from the logging roads that the sites were accessible, although steep. The spray zones have recently been logged for conifers, so company claims that they are too inaccessible for manual hardwood release are nonsense.

From the air it seemed that conifers, madrones and oak were unaffected by the spraying. The required buffering of watersheds was questionable also. To get firmer answers to spray concerns, I decided to take a closer look.

It didn't take much asking around Comptche to find a guide who is familiar with L-P territory. We hadn't gone more than a couple hundred yards past the company gate before we came upon the most ravaged hillsides I have ever seen. On about one hundred acres there is no sign of life, other than some three inch saplings veiled behind black nylon screens. Little red and blue flags stand out here and there, indicating where recent conifer replanting has occurred. Otherwise, the whole hillside is barren, littered with burned out logs and stumps, uprooted oaks, and naked soil. Yarders and flame-throwing helicopters have been through here recently, and the desolation is eerie.

After this taste of normal L-P forest operations, our arrival in Poverty Gulch, ten weeks after herbicide spraying, was almost anticlimactic. Walking down the road, we suddenly saw an entire hillside dominated by the now familiar rust color of herbicide die-off. No particular odor remained. It was clear than the main victim was Ceanothus, or blue blossom. The top half or two-thirds of the sprayed Ceanothus have died out, with the leaves fried but still attached to the withered branches. Seen from up close, many of the dead leaves are spotted with a white fungus. Some madrone in the spray area appear to have died, also with leaves still attached. Other madrones and all the tan oak were green and thriving.

Although we saw several deer and many birds during out two mile hike toward the spray area, the poisoned hillside itself seemed abandoned by fauna. The overall impression is sterile, a place one wouldn't want to linger. Without protective gear, I didn't feel inclined to penetrate far into the spray zone to examine the effect on lichens, insects and worms.

In its ads, L-P claims that herbicides are a "key part" of their effort to increase the volume of timber which can be harvested from its lands. "Sites for new plantings are cleared with herbicides. Weed choked and strangled young trees are freed with herbicides," according to the company. Garlon is supposedly a systematic poison, killing "unwanted woody plants" (including oaks) from within.

Our Lives Are at Stake: Workers Fight for Health and Safety (the Shell Strike of 1973)

By Berry Weisberg - OCAW 1-591, July 1973
Background Information by Douglas W. Erlandson - USW Local 12-591

On January 21st, OCAWIU President Bob Grospiron called over 4000 Shell OCAW members from 5 oil refineries and 3 chemical plants, out on strike. Then made a nationwide appeal to the public to boycott Shell Oil while the union continued its fight over the right to bargain health and safety issues.

The union was seeking:

  • 1) The establishment of a Joint Union-Management Health & Safety Committee
  • 2) Wanted the Union committee workers paid while performing official committee duties
  • 3) The right to call in independant Health & Safety inspectors
  • 4) Access to all Company information on both death and disease rates
  • 5) Annual Company medical examinations provided at Company expense

As a tactic for the 1973 strike, OCAW employed the first major "corporate campaign" in U.S. history. OCAW forged alliances with the scientific, academic, environmental and labor communities to fight Shell’s position that it would not bargain over health and safety. The union spent nearly half a million dollars to advertise a nationwide boycott of Shell and to educate the public about the need to protect the health of workers and the communities.

Even though 12 other major oil companies had already signed contracts that provided for the new joint union- management health and safety committees, they assisted Shell by buying their gasoline and blacklisting Shell's strikers. The oil industry's thinking was the new joint H&S committees would get in the way of production and profits.

Shell's corporate spokesman, J.H. Walter called the unions joint H&S committee 'another attempt at featherbedding since the workers could then decide how long they could safely work in the refineries and chemical plants.

Moreover, Shell stated that health & safety was none of the oil workers' business: "We are legally responsible for the health and safety of Shell employees in the workplace and this responsibility cannot be shared". The truth was the oil companies didn't want to give up control in this area.

From 1963-1969, Shell used caged canaries as 'safety devices' at their Houston chemical plant.(true story, no joke!) The canary's job was to detect the presence of carbon monoxide. If the canary died, it was time for the workers to leave. Shell went through a lot of canaries, OCAW was claiming by the time the canary died, the workers would already have been exposed.

The union was also seeking the right to inspect company records and financial reports of the pension funds Shell administered and to be able to grieve the company's arbitrary actions with regard to disability pensions. (The union suspected Shell's pension fund was under funded.) One Anacortes member who worked for Shell for 17 years, was certified by two doctors as being disabled, yet Shell wouldn't allow him disabled benefits even though he met the 15 year employment requirement. For the union, this was an item that needed to be addressed.

The International Representative assigned locally was Virgil Coragliotti, with Representative Tom Burkholder assisting on occasion. Don Yates was the Shell unit chairman and the committee members were Gil Nuessen, Wes Shull, F. D. Ferguson, Bob Melton Sr. Jerry Vrooman was the Local President and Jim Burgess was the financial secretary.

Picket pay was $25 a week. The 1-591 union brothers at General Chemical and Texaco assessed their monthly dues to help support the Shell members. Financial support was also received regularly from the Ferndale OCAW 1-590 local. Because Shell Oil’s daily production was unaffected and they didn’t lose any profits during the strike, the strikers received unemployment benefits under what was then known as the ‘dark plant rule’. Not surprising, Shell Oil later lobbied to get that section of the unemployment law changed.

About a week before the strike Snelsons’ had contracted with Shell to do maintenance work on a recently shutdown furnace. Their plan was to use the Boilermakers union, Local 104 out of Seattle. OCAW had gotten wind of it and a group of about 60 Shell brothers were on site waiting for the 14 building trades members when they attempted to cross the picket line, being led through by Bill Snelson. Several Shell picketers became so upset that they turned over both of Snelsons’ trucks and trailers. At the same time, someone smashed out Snelson's rear window. Out of fear, Snelson romped on the gas throwing John Garner, who was standing in front of him, onto the hood of his car. Garner was able to roll off as Snelson bolted on through. The Sheriff was immediately called.

Fred Nelson, Bob Melton and Charlie Pyburn were identified as the lead individuals involved and were fired. Later, after two days in court, Judge Deierlein had Melton and Pyburn jailed, then sharply criticized Shell management for not maintaining better communications with the union and local law enforcement officials in trying to prevent emotional blow-ups. Later Snelson took OCAW 1-591 to court and won $6700 for the damage done to his vehicles. Shell also fired Virgil Avey for breaking windsphrlds with his picket sign. While the other three were unable to get their jobs back, Fred Nelson was eventually rehired. Old time Union members refer to this incidence as the "Day of the Windstorm."

OCAW also had trouble with the Teamster's Union from Seattle. The same teamster leadership that was scabbing on the United Farm Workers, had ordered their drivers to disregard the picket line established by OCAW. And since there was an injunction limiting the number of pickets to two per gate, the union was unable to do much about the Teamsters pushing through with their trucks.

To keep in the health and safety issue in front of the public, OCAW had teams that traveled the northwest speaking to the news media and public about the need for work place safety. Shell later admitted the mobile speakers bureaus were very effective.

Finally, Shell, in the face of public pressure, bargained a compromised health and safety clause as well as meeting the union's demand allowing the pension fund to be reviewed and grieved if necessary. On June 1st the strike was officially ended.

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