For seven years, Lloyd Shumard, a timber-faller who earns $50,00 to $60,000 a year, shouldered his 30-pound chain saw and headed for the big trees in the Redwood Creek Basin near here.
But now, Shumard's saw has been silenced. Last March 27, President Carter signed into law a bill adding 48,000 acres to the Redwood National Park and, at the same time, took away Shumard's job.
But now Shumard, 38, and an estimated 1,500 other loggers and mill workers here have what has been called the most lavish employe dislocation program in U.S. history.
The program, known as the Redwood Employment Protection Program (REPP), is being investigated by the FBI and the General Accounting Office because of allegations of labor union and company misuse.
Shumard, one of a tiny elite in the timber industry, will receive from REPP $30.40 an hour, 32 hours a week, 37 weeks a year plus medical, dental and retirement benefits for himself and his family, tax free for the next five years.
That works out to $35,993.60 annually not counting the worth of the benefits, or the equivalent of as much as $50,000 a year. If his Carpenters and Joiners union negotiates a raise, he and his fellow loggers will get it. In addition, he eventually will be retrained if he chooses.
If he decides to go to work outside of the timber industry, his weekly income could rise. To encourage workers to leave what it sees as a dying industry, the federal government would cut the weekly benefit by only half of the new wage. Thus, if Shumard were to get a new job for $500 a week, his benefits would only be cut by $250.
REPP was placed in the park acquisition bill by its author, Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.), to placate unions. Labor groups opposed the bill because it would save an estimated 1.5 billion board feet of forest giants from the chain saws -- enough timber to keep Shumard and his fellow loggers working an estimated 30 years.
The program guaranteed some workers -- those 50 and older -- the equivalent of their annual salaries tax free, until they are 65 -- 11 years. The average federal weekly benefit paid out through the Eureka office of the California Employment Development Department is $166 a week tax free.
But that figure is misleading, according to Michael Venuto, a U.S. Labor Department official sent to Eureka to help oversee the program. Venuto said these workers receive another $104 in weekly unemployment insurance benefits, plus medical and other benefits that bring the total to nearly $330 weekly.
When the park bill was passed, the Labor Department estimated the employment package would cost $24.9 million. Now, however, some Labor Department critics say it could cost as much as $100 million.
So far, according to information supplied by the Department of Labor, 120 local firms or contractors have applied to get employes affected by the park into REPP. Sixty have made it Sixty more, not only lumber companies but hardware stores, rubber suppliers and cafe vendors, were unsuccessful.
Bruce Compton, a Sacramentobased official with the state's Employment Development Department, said some workers have received lump sum rather than installment settlements of as much as $56,000, tax free. Many of the settlements, Compton says exceed $30,000. Other workers have opted for combining lump sum and installment settlements.
"This has turned Eureka upside down," siad one federal source. "For all their lives, the people in this town have worked to achieve enough seniority to make sure somebody else doesn't get their jobs.
"Now, the name of the game is to get enough seniority to get laid off."
The program is not supposed to work that way. The chief allegation being investigated by the FBI is that, with the consent of the unions and companies involved, in violation of the REPP law, a disproportionate number of workers older than 54 are being routed into the program.
"I am an unemployment insurance career professional," said Compton. "I have been in this business a lot of years, and when something doesn't fall into the pattern, a remark is made, we pick up on it and begin to ask questions.
"We asked some of there senior employes, who were laid off for lack of work, why they weren't offered a downgrade, and they said, 'I was told I could come on down and get into the free money,' That gives you an inference that something there isn't all right."
Much of the controversy centers around Alfred L. Lasley, now earning $43,000 a year as a fifth-step GS 15 who is virtually written into the park bill by Burton as coordinator of the REPP. For 28 years, Lasley had worked as a Carpenters and Joiners official in the timber industry, the last 12 of those years as a business agent.
He was instrumental in organizing protest rallies and marches by loggers as far away as Washington, D.C. He is under investigation because of the allegations by other loggers that he routed workers with union seniority into the program. He has fiercely denied any wrongdoing, and many officials feel that he, as a union man, simply did everything he could for his former workers.
Shumard, for instance, is extremely grateful to Lasley. The government had offered Shumard just $8.80 an hour in compensation for his piecework job that frequently had paid him $60 an hour. Lasley helped negotiate the difference.
"If you had only been here when the unemployment insurance ran out, if you had been here to see how bad we needed this," Lasley said in an interview. "People were taking welfare and food stamps who never took it before. You can't believe the people who didn't have enough food in their houses for their kids that day, not next week but that day."
Shumard only worked 2 1/2 months in the forests in the last 18. For the rest of that time, he says, he and his wife, Shirley, lived on their savings. He recently received a lump sum payment of $25,000 from the federal government "and it took every cent, all of it, to bail me out."
In many ways, Shumard is typical of the displaced workers. He started at 17 at a Louisiana Pafific lumber company mill, manhanding redwood off a conveyor belt and into piles for storage and eventual shipment.
He moved into the woods 8 1/2 years ago, because that's where the big money is. He and his fellow fallers, gunning their roaring chain saws, can't hear when giant dead limbs break off far above them. Those limbs could drive him into the ground.
"You risk you butt. I come close to getting killed once or twice a year," he says. "But I have got a family and you need the money."
He doesn't know what he is going to do now: "I might go to school and pick up real estate or something like that," he said. "The government, you know, they're supposed to have this rehabilitation program where we can go, but after a year and a half we're still talking about it.
"It's kind of hell to leave a good job. Where else can you go, where can you make $35 an hour [on average] with my education? High school is it. I didn't even finish high school, I went to the tenth grade.
"Where else can I make $35 an hour?"