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.

OSHA regulations do not work if the employees are not willing to use the OSHA process. Making this settlement without a hearing and without our consent has caused many people at the mill to lose faith in OSHA. In addition to the above complaints, the settlement does not include any language to protect those of us who stuck our necks out to cooperate with OSHA in filing this charge against G-P. The company has gained access to our statements and knows who we are. Retaliation so far has included the posting of a wanted poster for Treva VandenBosch, with a photo of her, at the main gate of the G-P mill, with instruc-tions to the security guards to arrest her on sight if she goes on G-P property. This type of harassment has had a chilling effect on the willingness of other employees to file OSHA complaints against con-tinuing unsafe conditions.

We live and work in a company town, where Georgia-Pacific’s influence extends through all aspects of our community. We had hoped that a federal agency such as OSHA, based away from our area, would be free from company control and able to provide us with the justice that we cannot get locally. We have nowhere else to turn. Please consider our request.

[Signatures Mising from Document Copy]

Second Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein

February, 1990

Re: OSRC Docket No. 89-2713.

Dear Judge Goldstein,

We would like to respond to some of the specific points in the OSHA/Georgia Pacific Settlement Agreement on the PCB spill in Fort Bragg. We object to reducing the charges against G-P because (1) The violation was willful, and (2) Nothing less than a “willful” citation will protect us against continuing unsafe conditions and G-P’s continuing harassment of workers who file OSHA complaints.

Georgia Pacific claims in a local newspaper article that the “willful” citation was dropped because of “new evidence” they presented to show that the company had reason to believe the capacitor did not contain PCBs. If there was new evidence presented, we feel that the affected employees should have had a chance to look at it too. Because the evidence we have shows that the company had every reason to suspect that the capacitor did contain PCBs.

The attached photos show the situation as it appeared at the mill on February 13, 1989. Certainly a reasonable person would at least suspect PCBs, since the capacitor was clearly marked with a PCB label. And, since this was a closed capacitor, it could not have had the oil drained and replaced, but would have had to be removed entirely to eliminate the PCBs. G-P’s own written chronology of the PCB spill shows that the company was at best unsure of the capacitor’s contents at this time.

But, regardless of whether G-P had reason to think there were no PCBs before the oil was tested, by Monday February 13 at 8:30 PM the lab test had come back positive for PCBs, and there can be no doubt that the company knew. This is recorded in G-P’s chronology of the incident. According to that chronology, G-P did not rope off the area or warn the workers until Tuesday morning, February 14. And during the night shift, at least 18 employees were willfully exposed to PCBs, including the three millwrights on the crew, who were sent to weld and cut in the spill area without protective clothing from 3:30 AM to 5:30 AM Tuesday February 14. There are many other points we would bring up if a hearing were held. But we feel that the above evidence is undeniable proof that G-P willfully exposed its employees to PCBs.

In light of this clearly willful violation, none of the reasons given by G-P or OSHA for reducing the charges without a hearing make sense to us. According to press statements by both parties, these are the reasons the deal was made:

  • (1) The level of employee exposure to PCBs was not hazardous—Lead millwright Frank Murray swallowed PCB oil when the capacitor burst and dumped the oil on his head. It also got in his eyes, nose, ears, etc. Frank went to the doctor and reported this shortly after the spill, but, apparently because of the company’s insistence that it was mineral oil and not PCBs, Frank’s stomach was not pumped and his body absorbed the full amount he swallowed.
  • (2) None of the exposed employees suffered any adverse health effects—Frank Murray was examined at San Francisco General Hospital three months after the incident. The doctor’s report cites initial effects of nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, defecating blood, and eye and skin irritation. Continuing effects include increased abdominal discomfort, increased bruis-ability, and exacerbating of existing colitis.
  • (3) Evidence showed no measurable level of PCBs in the exposed employees’ blood—This is because blood samples were not taken within the 72-hour period after exposure, when PCBs could have been de-tected. According to G-P’s written chronology, when they finally informed the employees that the leaking oil was PCBs, they left it to the employees themselves to decide if they should see a doctor, and only two did. Even those who saw a doctor were not given blood tests until three months after the incident. The only exception to this was Frank Murray, who was given a blood test right after the spill. But, in this company town of Fort Bragg, Frank’s blood test was somehow “lost” by the hospital before its results could be recorded.
  • (4) Not enough is known about the hazards of PCBs—There may be scientific disagreement about the long-term effects of PCBs, but the immediate health effects that Frank experienced were not just speculation, they were hard and true medical facts. What is definitely known about PCBs is that they stay in the body and cannot be expelled or decomposed. PCBs have certainly not been proven safe. So, considering their permanence in the human body, their documented short-term, effects, and their suspected long-term effects, OSHA has adopted strict procedures for protecting workers from ingesting PCBs. There is no question that G-P violated these existing OSHA procedures in their handling of the PCB spill at the Fort Bragg plant. If G-P wants to complain about the toxicity standards for PCBs, they can take that up with the EPA. But the rules that were in effect at the time of the spill were the rules they were required to follow.
  • (5) The settlement was agreed to in order to get G-P to do the abatement and protect the workers—G-P completed the removal of all remaining PCBs from the mill last May, long before the settlement was reached.

But, while PCBs are apparently no longer a danger at the Fort Bragg mill, G-P’s continuing disregard for the workers’ safety is. Even during the negotiations with OSHA for the PCB settlement, G-P was sending millwrights to do maintenance work on moving, high-speed machinery. Workers again had to call OSHA and get the company cited in order to obtain what should have been the standard, everyday consideration that is necessary to maintain a safe workplace. The Settlement Agreement on the PCB case has only made the situation worse. The company continues to maintain an unsafe workplace, the affected employees are devastated, and the workforce in general is more frightened.

We are not just concerned about the workers who were exposed to the PCBs, we are concerned for the safety of all the workers at the mill. If G-P can get out of the “willful” citation without even going to trial, it will once again demonstrate what we already feel in Fort Bragg—that the company is above the law.

That’s why we are appealing to you not to sign the Settlement Agreement. We aren’t asking you to take our side. We are only asking you to hold a hearing so that we can present our case. We think the facts will speak for themselves.

Thank you,

Judi Bari

Union Rep, IWW Local #1.

cc: Charles H. Morgan Attorney, Georgia Pacific.

Leslie Campbell, OSHA Solicitor’s Office.

Alan Treachner, Asst. Regional Administrator, OSHA.

Don Nelson, Business Rep, IWA.

Third Letter to Judge Sidney Goldstein

March 16, 1990

Re: OSRC Docket No. 89-2713.

Dear Judge Goldstein,

I am writing to clarify apparently contradictory information that you have received concerning the PCB spill at Georgia Pacific. On February 22, 1990, attorney Claudia Brisson wrote a letter asking to withdraw party status for the affected employees in this case. The letter did not, however, withdraw the workers’ designation of myself and Anna Marie Stenberg as the employees’ authorized representatives in the OSHA proceedings. Ms. Brisson, acting as the employees’ lawyer in a private civil matter related to the OSHA case, specifically acknowledged in an earlier letter to you (1/29/90) that we were the employees’ authorized representative for this OSHA case. The most recent letter to you from Ms. Brisson also states that the employees will cooperate with Fed OSHA and “be witnesses at any time.”

Ms. Brisson apparently sees some legal advantage in not having the employees retain party status in their own hearing. However, that does not change the facts of the case, or the inadequacy of the settlement reached by OSHA and G-P. But in order for the case to go forward at this time, we understand that we need to establish that we are allowed to serve as the employees’ authorized representative.

The question of who may be an authorized representative in an OSHA case is addressed in the Field Officers’ Manual CPL2.45B, chapter 9 page 2 Section A2BC. It states:

For the purpose of submitting a complaint a representative of employees is any of the following:

  • (1) Authorized representative of the employee bargaining unit, such as a certified or recognized labor organization.
  • (2) Attorney acting for an employee.
  • (3) Any other person acting in a bonifide representative capacity, e.g. a member of the employees’ family or an elected official. In this situation a complainant purporting to act as a representative of the employee shall be presumed to be so acting unless the CSHO obtains information that the complaint was not submitted with the knowledge of or on behalf of the employee.

Although this states that the representative can be the workers’ certified or recognized labor union, it does not say that the workers have to choose that union as their representative in OSHA matters. In other words the certified union does not have exclusive rights to represent the workers in an OSHA case as it does in contractual matters. Instead the employees can choose virtually anyone they want to represent them, as long as OSHA does not have reason to believe that representative is acting without the workers’ knowledge and consent.

In this case, the affected employees have twice said emphatically that they do not want to be represented by their regular bargaining agent, Don Nelson of the International Woodworkers of America.

The first time was in a letter submitted 8/24/89 to the OSHA informal review board (Attachment #1, below) which designates employee Ron Atkinson to speak for the others. The second time was in a letter submitted to you on 1/24/90 (Attachment #2, below). The second letter specifically designates myself and Anna Marie Stenberg as representatives.

The fact that we are associated with a “rival” union is completely irrelevant to this case. Our union, IWW Local #1, is not challenging the IWA for exclusive bargaining status for the G-P workers, and we have no intention of doing so. This OSHA case has nothing to do with who represents the workers under the NLRA. It only has to do with who represents these particular affected employees in this particular OSHA case. Since you have received no information contradicting their authorization of us to represent them, we presume that our party status still stands and that we can speak in the workers’ behalf. Every word that we have written to you in all of these letters has been gone over in advance by affected employee Ron Atkinson, who has relayed the information to the others.

As for the inadequacy of the settlement agreement between OSHA and G-P, this can best be seen by examining what, has been happening in the mill since the agreement was reached. The abatement did not include any language to restrain G-P from harassing employees who file OSHA complaints, despite the fact that harassment had occurred in the PCB incident. The settlement also allowed G-P to escape being cited for willful violation, even though it is hard to imagine how the violation could have been more clearly willful.

Since the time when this settlement was reached, G-P has continued to violate their employees right to a safe work environment, apparently confident that they will receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist from OSHA. On Dec. 20, 1989, they were cited by CalOSHA for failing to provide safe lockout procedures for the computerized green chain. They made changes in response to this citation, but the changes were not enough to protect the safety of workers on this machine. On 3/16/90 G-P was cited once again for three more violations on the same machine, including a serious violation for not reporting an accident in which an employee had three fingers severed. On 2/24/90, yet another complaint was filed on the same machine, this time citing ten safety violations. This complaint was investigated on 3/12/90, and a final settlement has not yet been reached.

This latest OSHA complaint, listing the ten violations, was only filed because Anna Marie Stenberg was willing to sign it for the workers so that they did not have to use their own names. Because of consistent harassment of employees who file complaints, the workers are afraid to step forward even though they are concerned about the unsafe equipment. And, since G-P will not allow Anna Marie to enter the mill and inspect the machinery, it is difficult to resolve this complaint until the workers can have some real assurance that they will not suffer reprisals if they identify themselves.

G-P’s harassment of workers who attempt to use the OSHA process has recently resulted in Fed OSHA investigator Chuck Byers being sent to Ft. Bragg to investigate this intimidation. He has been looking into the harassment of at least four different workers in OSHA complaints that took place after the settlement agreement.

What all this shows is that G-P has continued unslowed in its pattern of violating OSHA rules concerning both safety and harassment. We believe that the leniency of the settlement G-P negotiated with OSHA in the PCB case and their ability to escape the scrutiny of a hearing has encouraged their arrogant attitude towards the workers’ safety. We also feel that this situation will only be resolved by bringing G-P to a hearing and holding them accountable for their actions. The contradictory claims you have heard in this case can only be sorted out if the hearing is held. And the longer it is delayed, the longer the list of violations becomes.

Judi Bari, Union Rep, IWW Local #1

Attachment #1 - August 24, 1989

We, the undersigned workers who are employed at Georgia Pacific in Fort Bragg and who were exposed to toxics and PCBs at the Fort Bragg Mill, declare that Ron Atkinson represents us. We have no confidence in Don Nelson, IWA Business manager. We believe the charges and citations issued against Georgia Pacific to be accurate and true. We wish absolutely that no compromise at any time be made regarding these citations and charges.

Treva VandenBosch (retired G-P) hog tender,

Ron Atkinson

Frank Murray

Craig Ogram

LeRoy Pearl.

Attachment #2 - January 24, 1990

We, the undersigned affected employees in the PCB spill of February 19, 1989 at Georgia Pacific in Fort Bragg, California, declare that we have no confidence in Don Nelson, IWA Business Representative. We do not authorize Don Nelson to serve as our employee representative in OSHA Case 89-2713.

We feel that the citations issued against Georgia Pacific are accurate and true. We were exposed willfully by Georgia Pacific to PCBs and dioxins. We authorize no compromise be made on our behalf regarding these charges.

We also request that Judi Bari, IWW Local #1, and Anna Marie Stenberg, IWW Local #1, be our authorized employee representatives and be granted party status in lieu of Don Nelson regarding The Secretary of Labor versus Georgia Pacific Corporation - OSHRC #89-2713.

Ronald Atkinson, Millwright, IWW Local #1

Treva VandenBosch (retired G-P) hog tender, IWW Local #1

Frank Murray, Lead Millwright

Craig Ogram, electrician

LeRoy Pearl, millwright.