Judi Bari interviews Louisiana Pacific Mill Workers
Transcript of a KZYX FM radio interview; Reprinted in August 1992 issue of the Industrial Worker.
Mill workers Don Beavers and Randy Veach have worked in the non-union Louisiana Pacific mill in Ukiah for 15 and 14 years, respectively. This KZYX FM radio interview with Judi Bari took place a few days after they publicly criticized the company for safety violations in the local media.
Judi Bari: I think a lot of people listening have never worked in a plant anything like L-P. Could you start by describing what it's like to work there?
Don Beavers: First of all, we're Graders, so it's our job to grade the lumber. We stand up all day, we breathe sawdust and dirt all day--it comes off the lumber. About every 2 seconds we have to turn over a board and grade it...
Randy Veach: ...as it's coming down the chain, it's constantly moving.
Don Beavers: It continually moves. It doesn't stop. They put in some new machinery a few years back and so now we not only have to turn over one board and grade it, but we have to split that board sometimes and put two grades on one board with trim marks and all kinds of stuff. So we don't have a whole lot of time to do this...
Randy Veach: ...but we're expected to do it...
Don Beavers: ...and on top of that they change our marks and make new grades for us all the time, and they don't give us time to get used to this, they don't do anything but speed it up.
Randy Veach: You're expected to do exactly what they tell you to do without any argument.
Don Beavers: All the time, for eight hours a day, five days a week, day in and day out, every minute standing up working...turning lumber over, grading it.
Judi Bari: And they have bells for when you start, when you take your break and stuff...
Don Beavers: Whistles.
Randy Veach: ....or whistles, I mean really, a lot of people haven't experienced this kind of thing since elementary school, and I guess L-P is a little like elementary school in a lot of ways, but just presume you're talking to somebody that has no experience with this.
Don Beavers: No, I would say more like boot camp.
Randy Veach: Yeah, that's probably a better description.
Judi Bari: A bunch of elementary school kids in boot camp.
Don Beavers: We're expected to be at our work stations exactly when that whistle blows.
Randy Veach: We were late one time by 3 seconds to be at our work stations. This is a true story too. And we were told not to be late any more. And I was 15 feet from where I was supposed to be and I was on my way walking there... and the machine wasn't even running.... We get yelled at for things that are totally made up. The foreman looks for ridiculous things to yell at us for.
Don Beavers: And he apparently seems to enjoy it, that's why he does it.
Randy Veach: Exactly, it's his head trip, he enjoys yelling at people that's why he's a foreman.
Don Beavers: That's what they want, really. I guess.
Randy Veach: That's right. They intimidate the workers by fear and that's why they have him there. Everybody around here is so afraid that if something gets crossed up ...lumber gets crossed up... they will try to fix it without stopping the machine for fear of being yelled at by the foreman if they do not stop the machine. It's a constant environment of fear, totally.
Judi Bari: A lot of the complaints that you cited in your letter and in the article were unsafe conditions that they make people work under just trying to push for production and production and production. Would you go into detail about that?
Randy Veach: OK this happened just a few days ago... What happened was that a board got crossed up on what's called the landing table that comes out of the planer. We had to stop the landing table chains to get this cross up fixed. Well, one of the workers was trying to do it, the chains were turned off and he was trying not to get up on the landing table, he was trying to do it from his work station so he wouldn't have to lock everything out...because he was safe from where he was. The foreman came along and started yelling at that particular employee. He told him, "We don't have all night to run this stuff." And that intimidated that employee to jump up there and fix it immediately. And that's what happened. The employee jumped up on the landing table. Nothing was shut down.
Don Beavers: They shut the chains off, but they didn't lock out or do any of the safety procedures that are required.
Randy Veach: And in that particular instance, the foreman intimidated the employee to hurry up and get on with it instead of locking everything out like he was supposed to.
Don Beavers: Instead of following procedure.
Randy Veach: Exactly. Total intimidation.
Don Beavers: And that's a common occurrence.
Randy Veach: We do know that the foremen themselves have what we term "production wars" between each other...where one foreman tries to beat out the other foreman consistently. They take it as a little game...it's little soldiers on maneuver....
Judi Bari: Can you tell some of the specific accidents that you've witnessed in the mill as a result of the way they run it?
Randy Veach: Which one shall we start with? Well one we mentioned in the letter, which happened some time ago. It was when our foreman climbed onto a machine that wasn't properly locked out and the machine started its cycle and it knocked him off. He was probably ten to fifteen feet off the ground, it knocked him off the machine, he fell down onto other equipment below it. Fortunately he wasn't killed, he could have been very easily in that situation. But he did go to the hospital with some minor injuries.
Judi Bari: And that's the foreman?
Randy Veach: That's the foreman.
Judi Bari: do you want to say his name?
Randy Veach: Sure, Dean Remstead. Yep, he's...one of a kind. And, to our knowledge, the forklift driver got wrote up for [Remstead's accident].
Judi Bari: He must be pretty bad if workers...I mean workers at the L-P mill very rarely go public with their complaints. So the fact that [a local newspaper] would even write an article about your complaints shows how unusual a step it is...how intimidated people really are to speak out. Are there other things about him? ...that he does?
Don Beavers: His whole attitude is a real problem.
Randy Veach: He gets off on intimidating people, you know, bottom line.
Don Beavers: He thinks he's a warden, of a prison or something.
Judi Bari: And he is.
Don Beavers: Exactly. That's what we feel like. We go down, we punch a time clock and we put our chain and ball around our ankle and stumble up to our work station.
Randy Veach: Where you're not expected to leave throughout the entire shift.
Don Beavers: Exactly. And we're not expected to voice our opinions at any time. We have no opinions as far as they're concerned. And apparently...Remstead we have more contact with than any of the rest of them...but apparently they all feel the same way, because whenever we talk to any of the rest of them, we're expected to do exactly what we're told, and not say anything back.
Randy Veach: Right. Virtually all of [the workers] agree with us, but because fearing for their jobs, are afraid to speak out.
Don Beavers: Exactly. they're real brave when they're talking to us because they feel that we are inferiors. But they have no guts when they talk to their superiors, because they don't tell their superiors anything except, "Yes Sir."
Judi Bari: Do you think other employees are as mad at L-P as you are?
Don Beavers: I think overall they are.
Randy Veach: I would say the majority of them, yeah. But there are certain percentage who will back the company all the way.
Don Beavers: I've gotten more compliments after we've wrote this letter than I have for anything I've ever DONe for the company.
Randy Veach: We've had nothing but compliments on what we've done.
Don Beavers: Getting on to the Mexico mill...our opinion of the Mexican plant that they opened up was just purely for profit. L-P opened it up so that they wouldn't have to pay us what they do...they won't have to pay the insurance that they would down there...they don't have to adhere to the safety regulations or environmental regulations down there that they would up here. So, for them it's investing a dollar and making a thousand. That's basically the way I feel about it.
Judi Bari: So, so much for our community.
Don Beavers: Exactly. They snowballed the papers and stuff trying to convince the community on what nice people they are, when they come down to the mill...if the people in the community had to work for L-P they'd certainly know that this is not what it's all made out to be.
Judi Bari: All right, so...well, I want to ask, what do most of the mill workers...I know what a lot of environmentalists think about timber workers...and I think it's too bad, because I think it shows a lot of misunderstanding that they think that timber workers have any say at all over the policies of the company. I don't know who the think they're kidding. I wonder, what do people in the mill think of the environmentalists?
Don Beavers: Well, we should answer this question like a two-part question. We should answer what it used to be and what it is now. Several years ago there was a lot of negative feelings toward the environmentalists. Everybody....not everybody...
Randy Veach: The vast majority.
Don Beavers: ...yeah, the majority of the workers were intimidated by management to believe that the environmentalists were the bad guys.
Randy Veach: And certainly management made them out to be exactly that. That they were the ones taking the jobs away...the environmentalists ...totally untrue.
Don Beavers: But as a couple of years have went by now, a lot of employees have been able to see through all of the red haze and lies that the management has been spreading, and I think a majority of them, now, don't believe that the environmentalists are responsible, they believe as we believe, it's bad management by L-P. And that's what's caused all of these problems is bad management. Management doesn't care about our feelings--it's insignificant to them. OK? Basically we're nothing but a paid robot. And we've been told...our jobs are graders...both of us we've been told graders are a dime a dozen.
Randy Veach: An expendable robot at that.
Don Beavers: Exactly.
Judi Bari: And what do you think of L-P's logging practices?
Don Beavers: Well, I don't particularly like them at all. I don't like clearcutting at all. I have a personal vendetta against clearcutting. Up in Trinity County they've clearcutted some areas that were totally beautiful...it was right up next to the wilderness line and I went up there to go backpacking and it was gone! It looked like somebody had dropped a bomb on the place. Management had tried to conDONe these types of practices by saying it's good for the forest to clearcut it. So that all the nice little trees can grow up healthy and strong because there's No big trees in the way. That's total ridiculousness.
Randy Veach: Yeah, what they were really saying was that they want to take a forest, cut it down and replace it with tree farms.
Don Beavers: Yeah, exactly....it won't be a forest any more, and they're not even very good at their tree farms, 'cause as far as I know, most of their trees die when they plant them 'cause they don't take care of them.
Judi Bari: Yeah, and there's a lot of other reasons too. You can't keep taking out of soil and not put back into it...and expect the trees....it took over 10,000 years for the soil to build up for the first cut.
Don Beavers: exactly.
Judi Bari: And second cut was 100 years, third cut 20 years. So you can see why the forest is dying. I think if L-P's logging practices were as good as they say, then maybe they'd have some trees left.
Don Beavers: It all comes down to the almighty buck, you know. They want to make as much as they can, as fast as they can, and they're not concerned about how they do it. And then after they leave Mendocino County or northern California, or whatever it may be, the rest of us that are still gonna live here are gonna have to walk outside and see nothing but dead trees.
Randy Veach: Right, we're going to be left with the mess to clean up.
Don Beavers: Exactly. While they move on to some other fertile hunting ground and kill it.
Judi Bari: Since 1989, Louisiana Pacific has laid off approximately 50% of their work force in their western division. And there's hardly any logs at the mill anymore, I've never seen it so low. What do you think are the prospects for the future for L-P mill workers in this area?
Don Beavers: Well, pretty dismal. It's real touchy. it could make it for a few more years, but I don't see any long-term future. I don't think so.
Randy Veach: Certainly neither do I.
Judi Bari: So, what are you planning on doing? What do you think people can do?
Don Beavers: I don't know.
Randy Veach: Yeah, hard call.
Don Beavers: Yeah, we're just going to have to find the best we can. The only thing we can say is that people should certainly be considering that that is an almost certain probability, that the mill won't be there, and they should start looking elsewhere for new careers.
Randy Veach: Exactly, I'm certainly not depending on that place being there tomorrow.
Judi Bari: Out in Albion right now, there's a controversy going on over an L-P cut, and people have been filing lawsuits to try to save this little piece they call "Enchanted Meadow". In court this week, Louisiana Pacific argued that if they didn't get to cut the Albion watershed--this 280 acres--that they were going to have to close the Ukiah mill. And that weighing environmental impacts against this whole sawmill closing, that they should be allowed to keep the sawmill open. So there're two questions I would like to ask you. First of all, do you think that's true? And secondly, how do you feel about them taking cuts like that to keep the mill running?
Randy Veach: Well, first of all, if our sawmill depends on a 280 acre cut, I think we better start looking for a job right now.
Don Beavers: I would have to agree.
Randy Veach: And the amount the board feet that's going to come out of that small of an area isn't going to run our sawmill for any significant amount of time at all.
Judi Bari: Well how do you feel about these last little pieces? Do you think that we need to cut them? What do you think we need to do to keep the mill open?
Randy Veach: Well, I think we need to replace the managers first.
Judi Bari: That sounds like a great start.
Don Beavers: That's certainly where you need to start. Start at the top.
Randy Veach: Yeah, if we are down to these last couple of dinky patches that we need to go out and cut these down to keep our mills running, well, then what's the use?
Don Beavers: We're in big trouble.
Randy Veach: We're in a lot of trouble. And the management has brought us to this point. And with bad management, come bad decisions. And these people have been making bad decisions for as long as I can remember. And now they blame all their problems on environmentalists and employees where they ought to just look in the mirror, 'cause that's where all their problems really are. None of this had to come about. These mills didn't have to be shut down. The timber didn't have to be slaughtered like it was. If they would have used proper management, and done everything environmentally sound it would have been OK.
Don Beavers: But that's not the corporate way!
Randy Veach: Nope. Nope. Certainly isn't. They want to build up their pocket books and run!
Judi Bari: So, I think that the fact that they're a global corporation, that they're not even based here, is why they don't care about us. They're not even from here, and they're not staying here. So I hear y'all have written a poem about what it's like to work for L-P so maybe we'll end with a little bit of culture here.
Randy Veach: Well, as our reading rights were taken away--we're not allowed to read anything unless it has to do...concerns our job. And there is considerable down time at times. And so we've turned to writing instead. DON and I wrote a little poem...one night here, just recently, and it's entitled: "I'm Just Here". And, I got that title from asking someone what their reason was for just basically living that day and working. And they said, "I'm just here." So it's an appropriate title.
I'M JUST HERE - By Don Beavers & Randy Veach
Punch in at the clock. In this job, feel trapped.
Resistant to change, how my life has been mapped.
The trees disappear, the mill just runs on,
"They're out there! They're ours! Cut them all 'til they're gone!"
We're not allowed to read. don't know that we write.
Nameless. Just numbers. Gone are our rights.
Safety is veiled, the attempts to comply,
Fall short of the law, from fear, and a lie.
Expendable, we are. No pats on the back.
Just threats of replacement, regardless of fact.
My opinion means nothing, my mind is a blank.
I'm an L-P employee! Just one of the rank.