I worked with Rep. Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) on the Redwood Employee Protection Prgram (REPP), in connection with legislation that added 48,000 acres to Redwood National Park last year. On the basis of The Post's March 3 article "A Redwood Windfall," it would appear that we connived with a clutch of greedy loggers to provide them with a gigantic ripoff at taxpayer expense.
In fact, we were trying to determine what is fair compensation for wager and benefits lost by workers as a direct result of government action. The employee protections were written into the legislation not "to placate unions," as the Post reporter wrote, but rather in conformity with a fundamental moral principle, which in the present context may be stated as follows:
If it is in the national interest to expand the park, as Congress believed, then the costs and sacrifices resulting from the expansion should be shared equitably by the whole nation. The burden should not be borne disproportionately by the families of the workers whose jobs are being wiped out by the park expansion. They, along with the rest of us, should and will pay their share of the taxes required for an equitable sharing of the costs.(The Post describes the worker benefits at Redwood as "tax free." They are not. The legislation explicitly provides that these benefits are to be reduced by amounts equal to the federal and state income taxes that would be withheld from equivalent wages.) And, through taxes, they and we will be handsomely compensating the companies for the land taken by the park expansion.
Loggers Uprooted by Park Addition Can Get Equivalent of $50,000 a Year," said The Post in its subhead. That is a cheap shot, appropriate for a radical right-wing propaganda sheet but not for a responsible newspaper. Nowhere in the article does The Post explain, in simple language, that the objective of the Redwood Employee Protection Program is to provide the affected workers with compensation approximately equal to their wages and benefits for a period of time determined by their age and seniority at the time of layoff. Instead, The Post singled out a totally atypical worker-a highly skilled "faller," who has the most dangerous job in the woods and is paid accordingly. To attract people to this work, companies have been willing to pay well; since REPP provides equivalent compensation, these men are compensated well, too. But even with all fringe benefits factored in, total compensation will be far less than the article suggests. In any case, fallers represents only a tiny minority of the worers affected. Buried in the article is the fact that The average weekly beneftis (combining both REPP and unemployment compensation) amount to $270 per week, which works out to about $14,000 per year, considerably less than the income required to maintain a moderate standard of living for a family of four, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The article suggests strongly that compensation is being provided to some workers who should not have been included in the program. The reader is bound to conclude that workers are responsible for the alleged abuses being investigated by the government. The point is lost that these abuses, if in fact they exist, are ultimately the responsibility of the employers. Workers do no lay themselves off. But employers eager to get rid of older or otherwise less desirable workers may contrive to lay them off out of line with seniority. An employer with a young work force has lower costs in health insurance, pension benefits and vacation pay. Workers do not deserve to be blamed exclusively for abuses conceived in the boardroom.
Instead of defaming the rare government program that treats workers justly and humanely, The Post should be urging extension of the moral principle involved. When the government liberalizes trade agreements, cuts back on defense contracts, shuts down plants fro environmental reasons-in all these situations, workers are an afterthought, compensation inadequately at best.
Society pays a high price for treating workers as expendable. Corporations are adroit at exploiting the insecurity of workers by enlisting them as lobbyists for corporate interests in the guise of protecting their jobs, while well-intentioned elitists defeat their own causes by dismissing their potential allies as "hardhats." In the redwood case, we were able to reconcile the interests of environmentalists and workers, and both won.