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EF!-IWW Local 1 timber workers

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."

Notes From Hell - Working at the L-P Mill

By Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, April 17, 1991; Reprinted in Timber Wars, © 1994 Common Courage Press.

"I've worked in the sawmill for 13 years, and every year the logs get smaller. Everyone knows L-P is leaving. It's just a matter of time," a Ukiah L-P millworker told me last spring. Since that time L-P has laid off over one-third of its workforce in our area. They have closed or are closing their mills in Potter Valley, Covelo, Cloverdale and Calpella, and they have laid off the graveyard shift in Ukiah. Meanwhile, they have opened up their redwood planing operation in Mexico, using machinery that they took out of the Potter Valley Mill. yet despite all this, we have not heard a peep of complaint from the L-P workers. How does a company as cold and crass as Sleaziana Pacific (sic) keep their workforce so obedient? A look behind the barbed wire fence that surrounds their Ukiah mill might yield some clues.

"It's their little world, and when you step through the gate you do what they say or you don't stay in their little world," says one millworker. The work rules are designed to turn you into an automaton. There's a two-minute warning whistle, then the start-up whistle. You have to be at your work station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows, or you can be written up for lateness (three white slips in a year for the same offense and you're fired). You stay at your work station doing the same repetitive job over and over for two and a half hours (two hours in the planing mill and a half hour in the sawmill) until the break whistle blows. then you get a ten-minute break, except that it takes you two minutes to walk to the break room and two minutes to walk back, so you only get to sit down for six minutes. And don't get too comfortable, because there's a two-minute warning whistle before the end of breaktime, then you have to get back to your station ready to go when the start-up whistle blows again. If you ever wondered what they were training you for with all those bells in public school, here's the answer--life at L-P.

In the Land of the Free, democracy stops at the plant gates. The Bill of rights is supposed to protect against unreasonable or warrantless searches. But not at L-P. Their drug policy reads like the gestapo: "entry onto company property will be deemed as consent to inspection of person, vehicle, lockers or other personal effects at any time at the discretion of management. Employee refusal to cooperate in alcohol and other drug testing, or searches of other personal belongings and lockers are subject to termination [sic]." And, before you even get hired you have to submit to a urine test and sign a consent form to let them test your urine any time "for cause," again at the discretion of management.

Amid constant noise and visible sawdust in the air, millworkers do jobs that would shock people who are familiar with factory work. take the job of offbearer. As whole logs come into the mill they are stripped of their bark, then run through 9-foot-tall band saws to make the first rough cut. The off-bearer stands a few feet from these saws and uses a hook to grab the slices of log and set them up for the edgerman. There are no guards on the sawblades, just exposed, high-speed, spinning teeth. The off-bearer must wear a face shield to protect himself from flying knots or metal debris from the logs, but that's not always enough to prevent injury. "it's even worse," says one experienced off-bearer, "because the knots are few and far between, so you're not on the alert. It can run cool for a week or a month, then wham!--something pulls the saw off."

This is what happened in the famous tree-spike case at the Cloverdale mill, when the band saw hit a metal spike and broke. Saw blade fragments went flying, and a 12-foot piece hit off-bearer George Alexander in the face, cutting right through his face guard and nearly decapitating him. That's why [groups in] Northern California [who are part of] Earth First! renounced tree-spiking, and that's why no one in Earth First! will ever convince me that tree-spiking is safe or okay.

Loss of life or limb is a constant danger at L-P, but it doesn't happen every day. What does happen every day is the mind numbing tedium of the job, and L-P's constant rush for production. Take the job of lumber grader. Rough cut lumber, 2x12 and up to 20 feet long, comes up on the chain, and the grader has to scan it, turn it over, decide the best way to trim it for length and split it for width, and put the grade marks and trim marks on the board. You have two to three seconds to perform all these tasks, while the chain keeps moving and the next board comes up. All night long. Back injuries, tendonitis, and shoulder strains, common among graders and other millworkers, are caused by turning over the heavy lumber. But the company just wants its production quotas. "We broke a production record in our section," said one of my sources. "We used to get pizzas and beer for that, but this time they just got us one of those six-feet submarine sandwiches. We probably made them $200,000 in L-P's pocket that night and they gave us a sandwich."

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.

The Truth About Earth First! and Loggers

Earth to Earth First!, over... - Ignorance is Bliss

By Crawdad Nelson - Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 12, 1990

While it is charming to watch the struggle for consensus, and to read detailed accounts of meetings without portfolio, and to keep up to date on which wing respects the other, etc., it's becoming difficult to sort out where and when the anarchists plan on actually making the necessary link to the worker which has for some time now been that avowed goal of the non organization Earth First!

Earth First! has an image problem. The ungrammatical logo, while appealingly rebellious, is but an irritating trifle. The long hair, wild clothes and conjured hordes do little to reassure the workers of Fortuna, Fort Bragg, Eureka, McKinleyville, etc. and in many cases undoubtedly work against the noble aims of the movement. Vocabulary has superceded labor. What's needed is less debate, less bellyaching, less self interested whining over the sexual orientation of the frigging undefinable nebula of progress, and some actual work. I know it's a foreign concept to many in the movement, but work (sweat, slivers, backache, ill humor and etc.) is what EF! needs to concentrate on.

It sounds like real fun to jump around in the highway and make fun of the people who build the roads we all use to travel from one momentous event to the other, and no one would relish sitting in a tree singing folk songs more than myself, but the time has come to act out the fantasy of alternative logging. The documentary films made last summer show clearly how it's done.

Some of the folks who insist loggers ought to start working on stream rehabilitation, reforestation, putting roads to bed and the myriad chores of the future ought to have their parents buy them some tools, axes, shovels, come alongs, and rope are good things to start with. You might want a pair of boots.

The loggers don't believe you are serious. I don't believe it half the time either. If you are, prove it. Quit disrupting and lead by example.

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.

Northern California Earth First! Renounces Tree Spiking

Text of a Press Conference held April 11, 1990 at the Louisiana Pacific Mill, Samoa, California - Reprinted the Country Activist, June 1990, Earth First! Journal, Beltane (May 1), 1990, and abridged in the Mendocino Commentary, April 12, 1990

Web Editor's Note: The following introduction appeared in the Earth First! Journal alone:

In a move that has left some EF!ers confused or dismayed, several West Coast Earth First! groups have renounced tree-spiking. At press conferences held in mid April, the groups called upon activists to refrain from spiking trees in northern California and Oregon forests. This whole issue is very controversial…and we do not intend to cover the inevitable debate in EF! Journal. Below we simply reprint Northern California EF!’s press release—so that EF!ers will know what the groups actually said, not just what the rumors are saying—and, we urge interested EF!ers to contact the groups and individuals involved for more information. For a compelling letter in opposition to the tree­spiking renunciation, write Colorado EF! contact Michael Robinson. For arguments in support of the renunciation, contact North Coast EF! groups or Southern Willamette EF!

Text of the Tree Spiking Renunciation

In response to the concerns of loggers and mill-workers, Northern California Earth First! organizers are renouncing the tactic of tree spiking in our area. Through the coalitions we have been building with lumber workers, we have learned that the timber corporations care no more for the lives of their employees than they do for the life of the forest. Their routine maiming and killing of mill workers is coldly calculated into the cost of doing business, just as the destruction of whole ecosystems is considered a reasonable by-product of lumber production.

These companies would think nothing of sending a spiked tree through a mill, and relish the anti-Earth First! publicity that an injury would cause.

Since Earth First! is not a membership organization, it is impossible to speak for all Earth First!ers. But this decision has been widely discussed among Earth First!ers in our area, and the local sentiment is overwhelmingly in favor of renouncing tree-spiking. We hope that our influence as organizers will cause any potential tree-spikers to consider using a different method. We must also point out that we are not speaking for all Earth First! groups in this pronouncement. Earth First! is decentralized, and each group can set its own policies. A similar statement to this one renouncing tree spiking is now being made in Southern Oregon, but not all groups have reached the broad consensus we have on this issue.
But in our area, the loggers and mill workers are our neighbors, and they should be our allies, not our adversaries. Their livelihood is being destroyed along with the forest. The real conflict is not between us and the timber workers, it is between the timber corporation and our entire community.

We want to give credit for this change in local policy to the rank and file timber workers who have risked their jobs and social relations by coming forward and talking to us. This includes Gene Lawhorn of Roseburg Lumber in Oregon, who defied threats to appear publicly with Earth First! organizer Judi Bari. It also includes the Georgia Pacific, Louisiana Pacific, and Pacific Lumber employees who are members of IWW Local #1 in northern California.

Equipment sabotage is a time-honored tradition among industrial workers. It was not invented by Earth First!, and it is certainly not limited to Earth First! even in our area. But the target of monkey wrenching was always intended to be the machinery of destruction, not the workers who operate that machinery for $7/hour. This renunciation of tree spiking is not a retreat, but rather an advance that will allow us to stop fighting the victims and concentrate on the corporations themselves.”

Environmentalism and Labor: Bridging the Gap

Speech given by Gene Lawhorn at the Public Interest and Environmental Law Conference (ELAW) in Eugene Oregon, March 4, 1990

I have been working in the wood products industry here in Oregon for five years. I started out at West-brook Wood Products in Norway. I injured my wrist on the job and had to have surgery. Shortly after I returned to work I was laid off out of seniority when they curtailed a shift. This was my first experience with the caring benevolence of the timber industry towards their workers.

After several months of unemployment I got hired at International Paper’s Gardner sawmill. About a year before I got hired the workers were forced to take wage cuts amounting to $3 an hour. The Reedsport City Council and the Chamber of Commerce got behind I-P because they threatened to close the mill if workers didn’t take wage cuts. But if workers would take cuts, I-P promised to return the wages in the next contract and they promised to be around at least another 20 years. In December of 1987, 1½ years after the pay cuts and false promises, I-P gave its 400 employees a Christmas present of one week’s notice of permanent plant closure due to selling the mill to Bohemia Lumber Co. This was my second experience with the caring benevolence of the timber industry.

After four months of unemployment I got hired by Roseburg Forest Products and relocated to Sutherlin. After eight months on the job I got my third experience of the caring benevolence of the timber industry towards workers when we were forced to go on strike to keep from taking wage cuts amounting $1.50 an hour. In a four month long (and very bitter) strike we ended up taking a $0.60 wage cut (lost) three (paid) holidays, Sunday overtime, and lost vacation time.

It was during the strike that I started to become vocal about environmental issues when I took notice all the cars and trucks that crossed my picket line had one thing in common. They all were displaying the yellow timber industry support ribbon. To many of us who stood on the picket line the yellow ribbon became a symbol of the scabs and the timber industry greed. Even today—a year after the strike—only a small handful of RFP workers will display the yellow ribbon.

The strike became a real eye opener for me, so I began to study the environmental issues. The more I learned the more frightened and concerned I became. The poisoning of the rivers, lakes, and oceans; the pollution of the atmosphere, depletion of the ozone layer, the advancing of the greenhouse effect, and the rape and plunder of the world’s ancient rainforest all alarmed me, and I began to see that all these things are tied to the profit motive mentality which cut our wages. I became fully aware that workers and environmentalists have more in common than workers and employers. For the sake of the great and holy profit motive of laissez faire capitalism workers and the environment are both being exploited beyond their means to cope, especially in third world developing nations.

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.

IWA Rank-and-File Union Millworkers Reply: Victims of G-P’s Fort Bragg Mill PCP Spill Speak Out

Written by Ron Atkinson, Cheryl Jones, Joe Valdao, Julie Wiles, and Treva VandenBosch
Edited by Judi Bari - Anderson Valley Advertiser, December 13, 1989, Mendocino Commentary, December 14, 1989 and the Industrial Worker, January 1990.

Web Editor's Note: all of these workers authorized Judi Bari and the IWW to represent them before OSHA hearings that soon followed.

Judi Bari’s Introduction: Unionism was hard won in the Pacific Northwest. In the early 1900’s, the IWW stepped in where the AFL feared to tread, and broke the stranglehold of the timber barons on the loggers and mill workers. The companies and the government fought back with terror and bru-tality eventually crushing the IWW and settling instead for the more cooperative “Business Unions”.

Today these unions have stood by and watched the erosion of the gains the people fought so hard to win. The following statement from five workers at the Georgia-Pacific mill in our area shows the situation timber workers are in today, both from the companies and the “Business Unions”.

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