Suspenders and Solidarity in Sacramento

by David Roddy,

SunderlandedThe annual Sacramento Central Labor Council Labor Day Picnic on Sept. 1, was divided over the removal of executive secretary Bill Camp, with his supporters wearing suspenders bearing a sticker declaring “L NO!,” in reference to Measure L, the latest attempt by Mayor Kevin Johnson to expand the executive power of the Sacramento Mayor’s office.

The suspenders were worn in solidarity with the recently ousted SCLC executive secretary Bill Camp (known for his folksy attire), whose abrupt firing by a group on the executive board led by council President Lino Pedres of SEIU 1877 is suspected by Camp’s supporters to be due to his opposition to Measure L, having led the effort to defeat a similar bill in 2010. Measure L, an initiative for the November ballot, plans to transition City Hall from a council-manager form of government to a mayor-council form, giving the mayor the power to appoint and unilaterally fire a city manager (now done by the entire council), oversee the creation of the city budget, and the ability to veto any changes to the budget and ordinances passed by the council.

The termination notice, taped to Camp’s door on August 29, has been rescinded after Camp’s union representative–Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 29–protested that Camp’s firing lacked due process. Camp is now on administrative leave and was told not to speak about his firing, which has led OPEIU 29 to file a grievance arguing Camp’s leave is without just cause and the gag order violates his free speech rights. Continue reading

Egyptian Union Organizes with Global Support

by Paul Garver

Mondelez

Update:

Following the reinstatement of all 5 executive members of the Cadbury Alexandria Union under their former conditions, elections were held on August 29 for the executive council of the union.

The leaders were once again elected as the principal officers of the union and supporters of the leadership fill all 9 positions on the executive.

160 members attended the meeting where the elections took place including 48 members from the other Mondelez factory in Alexandria at Burj el Arab. 3 of the elected executive members work at this factory where membership continues to grow.

Background
In July 2012, more than two years ago, the Egyptian division of Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods International) suspended five members of the executive committee of a union in Alexandria that dared to declare itself independent. The same American-owned and managed global food company also disciplined union activists at Mondelez plants in Tunisia and Pakistan for similar reasons.

In response the IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide) organized a global “Screamdelez” campaign joined by its member unions on every continent. From Pakistan and Tunisia, through North America and Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Mondelez workers and their unions demonstrated to support their Egyptian counterparts. Hundreds of supporters around the world sent protest messages through the LabourStart international website to Irene Rosenthal, Mondelez CEO.

As a result of this campaign, Mondelez agreed to negotiate with the IUF, and following a meeting in Alexandria on July 9th the five executive board members were reinstated to their jobs with full retroactive back pay and benefits. Elections for the new term of the union executive committee at the plant will take place shortly. All five former union executive committee members will be entitled to stand.

In a last effort to avoid reinstating the union officers, local management argued:”But we don’t know how to reinstate them since no company has ever had to do that in Egypt before!” But the Egyptian result may become a precedent for Mondelez workers in other countries. The IUF and Mondelez International jointly stated that:

“This brings the long-running labour conflict in Alexandria to an end. Both local parties have committed to seek to resolve future challenges in a good-faith and constructive manner and, beyond Egypt, Mondelez International and the IUF have agreed “to discuss the lessons learnt from this conflict.”

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One lesson for all trade unionists is the power of global worker solidarity, in winning campaigns that can even transcend sharp national conflicts.  During the Screamdelez campaign delegates at the IUF EECA regional meeting, held in Kyiv {Kiev} on November 4-5, 2013 concluded their discussion on trade union development by a symbolic action in support of the struggling Mondelez workers in Egypt, Pakistan and world-wide. The participants included union leaders and activists from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Free Riding On The Labor Movement

by Amy B. Dean 

Amy B. Dean

Amy B. Dean

We all benefit from what organized labor has accomplished .

American communities depend on collective action. Fire and police departments are great examples: They can function successfully because all of us pay in — not only those whose houses have burned down or been burglarized. 

These institutions work on the principle that the most effective way to protect individual interests is for all to contribute a little for the common benefit. When someone doesn’t contribute, everyone suffers. If someone didn’t want to chip in for firefighters or police officers but still expected the benefits of these collective protections, they would be considered freeloaders, and their behavior would be rightly vilified.

Yet when it comes to the labor movement, free-riding is exactly the response that conservatives are encouraging.

Throughout the country, Republicans have been pushing to expand “right to work” laws, which force unions to represent employees who do not pay to receive these benefits. It’s as if people were allowed to avoid paying in for firefighters yet the fire department were still required to serve them. Continue reading

Global Worker Solidarity Gets Real

 

by Paul Garver

Fast Food for 15 Labor activists have long called for international solidarity to confront global corporations, but sentimental and rhetorical appeals to the workers of the world to unite failed to produce lasting results throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, recent global organizing campaigns in fast food, which employs millions worldwide, and telecommunications show promise.

Fast Food

The international coordinated actions of fast-food workers on May 15, 2014, took place in 158 U.S. cities and 93 other cities across 36 countries. More than 10,000 workers and their supporters participated. This represented an unprecedented level of global labor solidarity.

Organizing fast-food workers on a global scale poses enormous challenges. There are relatively few workers in any outlet, and they are mostly precariously employed by third parties other than the global corporations. Labor law in the United States and most other countries is ill-adapted to facilitate worker representation and collective bargaining for such an atomized work force. Fast-food unions have gained small toeholds in only a few European countries that have collective bargaining by sector. Only in New Zealand has a determined union membership been able to conduct repeated, if brief, strikes to raise wages.

After the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) began putting significant resources into community-based organizations and worker centers, fast-food worker organizing has taken off into a powerful movement for raising the minimum wage for all workers.

Global coordination to raise the minimum wage by raising public consciousness rather than through sector or workplace organizing is done through the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF). The IUF, using funding from its own member unions, including the SEIU, held a global meeting of 80 fast-food workers and union representatives from 26 countries in New York in the week prior to the May 15 actions. Many of the foreign delegates remained in the United States to help organize the protest actions in U.S. cities. IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald notes that “The Fight for 15” is “just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast-food worker movement.”

Telecommunications Organizing

Another major global organizing campaign is talking place within Deutsche Telecom (DT), parent of T-Mobile U.S., which the Communication Workers of America (CWA) has been trying to organize. The large union ver.di, which represents DT workers in Germany, has been supporting the CWA organizing drive, trying to compel DT to apply higher worker rights’ standards to its operations in the United States. In May 2014, ver.di sponsored a thousand-strong rally at DT’s Berlin headquarters that included hundreds of international trade unionists in Berlin for an International Trade Union Confederation World Congress, CWA President Larry Cohen. and fired T-Mobile U.S. union activist Josh Coleman. Because of ver.di’s tireless media campaign, Coleman has become well known in Germany as a symbol of DT’s anti-union conduct in the United States.

This was not a one-off event. Ver.di members on the DT works council have visited several Southern U.S. cities where CWA is trying to organize at T-Mobile, and the two unions have formed a joint organization called T-Mobile Workers United (TU) to encourage contacts between German and U.S. workers, including an online discussion forum.

To be effective, global labor solidarity must be mutual and long-term, built around the common interests of workers in particular sectors and transnational companies. Global campaigns like these are moving in the direction of deeper practical organization and strategic planning.

Paul Garver is a retired organizer for the IUF and for SEIU and has been active in DSA for more than three decades. This article also appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Democratic Left.

Lessons from the Market Basket Strike

by Rand Wilson and Peter Olney

[Ed. Note: The unusual and lengthy strike at Market Basket, a regional supermarket chain centered in Eastern Massachusetts, garnered regional and even national media attention.  The object of the strike, led by local mangers, supported by workers at the store and  by warehouse and trucking workers who refused to deliver groceries, and by a strong consumer boycott, was to reinstate Arthur T. Demoulas, a fired former CEO who promised to retain the chain's popular paternalistic culture.  This article is reposted from the excellent Stansbury Forum (stansburyforum.com) with the permission of the authors.]

After a weekend of last minute haggling and prolonged negotiations, a settlement of the Market Basket dispute was announced Wednesday night bringing to a close one of the most dramatic and inspiring labor struggles in the United States in many a year. The settlement was not immediately about wages or benefits or job security language. These employees don’t even have a union! The settlement was about who would be their boss and CEO. In a highly unusual management-led action, they paralyzed the company’s 71 stores and promoted a devastating consumer boycott to get previously fired CEO Arthur T. Demoulas back and they won.

Most of the 25,000 workers from part-time checkers to big shot regional managers will be returning to work immediately. In fact, during most of the dispute, most of the checkers and in-store personnel worked, converting their stores and parking lots into protest platforms where the few remaining customers were engaged in intense discussions about the MB dispute. Where once the walls of a store were adorned with promotional ads, now they were decked-out with signs extolling the virtues of “Arthur T.” and their desire to maintain his business model over his cousin Arthur S. The strike was a strategic one by a combination of key workers in trucking and warehousing and top and middle managers whose industrial actions prevented any perishables from reaching the stores. Market Basket became nothing but a big dry goods chain.

Threats of firing and numerous “drop dead” days for employees to return to work came and went, virtually ignored by the workforce that was out. The power of a united and strategic workforce acting forcefully with broad consumer support rocked the whole of Eastern Massachusetts and its 30 stores in New Hampshire and Maine.

Would the workers have been better off in a union? Yes, of course. There is no substitute for the power and voice that collective bargaining provides for workers. Yet, the great irony here is that if Market Basket workers had been in a union, it’s nearly impossible to imagine them striking to restore their fired boss and defeat the Wall Street business model of his cousin Arthur S. A no strike clause and the narrow post WW II vision of our labor unions would surely have prevented that.

We should also point out that warehouse and trucking is usually with the Teamsters in unionized grocery stores. Often the decision to respect UFCW picket lines is not always forthcoming or impossible because of contract language.

An NLRB charge was filed by several employees arguing that the company’s threats against them constituted a violation of their Section 7 rights to protest and redress their “wages, hours and working conditions.” If a settlement hadn’t been reached, a National Labor Relations Board Administrative law judge would have had to rule on whether the discharge of the CEO constituted a “unilateral change in working conditions!” The employees certainly saw that it did — and put their own lives on the line because they saw their own conditions inextricably bound up with who was their CEO.

Below are some lessons from this extraordinary struggle that we draw for the rest of the labor movement:

  • Not all workers pack an equal punch– Strategic workers in trucking and warehousing are crucial to interrupting the flow of goods, particularly perishables. Current labor laws (especially in the private sector) exclude many of the most strategic workers making meaningful strike activity much harder.
    Management rights are workers’ rights– Unfortunately not since the UAW’s Walter Reuther has the U.S. labor movement sought any real say over operating and management decisions. Instead, we’ve surrendered to the narrow “management rights” clause written into virtually every union contract. Yet, these decisions, as the MB workers demonstrated, are crucial to the livelihood of workers.
    A real strike stops production – Campaigns at Wal-Mart and in fast food have called the exit of a handful of workers from stores and fast food outlets “strikes.” But most have failed to stop production. Market Basket workers (management and labor) engaged in a true “strategic strike” and the camera shots of empty shelves and empty stores were a compelling image that needed no virtual enhancement or Facebook ‘likes’ to be real.
    Community support is key – The depth of support in the massive boycott where customers taped their receipts from Stop and Shop, Whole Foods and Hannaford’s to the windows of Market Basket was an essential part of the victory. For many customers this was a deep hardship, but the passion and energy of the workers and Market Basket’s low prices underlay consumer’s commitment to stay away until victory.

Union or “not-yet-union,” one fundamental lesson is that there are no shortcuts to deep organizing at the point of production. Labor strategists and organizers who are impatient with that process and believe that social media and corporate leverage can substitute for the basics are doomed to failure.

Following this monumental struggle, Market Basket and its workers will never be the same. To reach a settlement, Arthur T. enlisted the notorious private equity firm, BlackRock to buy one third of the company. As a result, the Market Basket culture and its manager’s paternalistic practices may significantly change. Meanwhile, Market Basket’s workers expectations have never been higher and the sense of their power – even without the managers’ support – can’t be denied. The vast majority of workers are part-time and low paid. The UFCW is actively reaching out to enlist support. Stay tuned because there is undoubtedly much more to come!

Rand Wilson

Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is  currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice.

Peter Olney

Peter Olney is retired Organizing Director of the ILWU. He has been a labor organizer for 40 years in Massachusetts and California.

Open Shop Trend Makes Organizing “the Organized” Top Union Priority

by Steve Early

Steve Early

            For many years, American unions have been trying to “organize the unorganized” to offset, and, where possible, reverse their steady loss of dues-paying members. In union circles, a distinction was often made between this “external organizing”–to recruit workers who currently lack collective bargaining rights–and “internal organizing,” which involves engaging more members in contract fights and other forms of collective action aimed at strengthening existing bargaining units.

Thanks to the growing success of corporate-backed “Right-to-Work” campaigns, these two forms of union outreach now greatly overlap.  Virtually all labor organizations face the expanded challenge of recruiting and maintaining members in already unionized workplaces where the decision to provide financial support for the union has, for better or worse, become voluntary. (Some left-wing critics of “contract unionism” have long argued that automatic deduction of dues, by employers for their union bargaining partners, makes the latter overly dependent on management and less responsive to rank-and-file workers.)

Throughout the country, labor foes have succeeded in limiting the ability of unions to collect dues, or the equivalent in “agency fees,” from more of the 16 million workers they are legally certified to represent.  In the private sector, 24 states now have an “open shop,” which means that union membership or fee paying by non-members cannot be required in contracts with employers, including, most recently, those operating in Michigan and Indiana.

In the public sector, the parallel legal/political assault on “union security” agreements and automatic deduction of dues or fees from government employee paychecks has unfolded in those two states, neighboring Wisconsin, and every state with recently created bargaining units for home-based direct care providers.

With adverse ramifications for 700,000 similarly situated union-represented workers in other states, the Supreme Court ruled, in June, that publicly funded home health care aides in Illinois were only “quasi-public employees.” According to the Court’s decision in Harris v. Quinn, they are no longer subject to the requirement, under local public sector labor law, that non-members pay their “fair share” of the cost of union representation and services which unions must provide to everyone in their bargaining units.

Membership Exodus

When Service Employees organizer Rand Wilson and I wrote about this emerging trend two years ago, in an essay for Monthly Review Press entitled “Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America,” we noted that there were already more than 1.5 million Americans covered by union contracts, who had declined to become members. Based on developments then underway in the mid-west, we predicted that the guaranteed revenue stream that many U.S. labor organizations had long enjoyed–and used to pay for their large complement of lawyers, lobbyists, full-time negotiators, and field staff–would soon be interrupted.

For example, in Wisconsin, where public employees had just been battered by contract concessions and then stripped of meaningful collective bargaining rights, most of their unions had not functioned as voluntary membership organizations for three decades or more. We expressed the concern that a new, more intimidating workplace environment might combine with rank-and-file resentment over wage and benefit give backs to send dues receipts plummeting–if unions did not move quickly to strengthen their shop-floor presence.

In Indiana, from 2005-11, a similar Republican revocation of “dues check off” and more limited bargaining rights caused state worker union membership to drop from 16,400 to less than 1,500. In Michigan, after legislators excluded home care workers from their state’s definition of public employees and stripped them of bargaining rights granted by a previous Democratic governor, membership in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) declined by 80%–from 55,000 members to less than 11,000 in a single year.

Painful Transition 

As The New York Times reported last February, the forced transition to a new model of functioning has been no less painful in Wisconsin. Since Republican-backed Act 10 “severely restricted the power of public employee unions to bargain collectively,” the state worker membership of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) “has fallen by 60 percent; its annual budget has plunged to $2 million from $6 million.”

Founded in 1932 as a pioneering AFSCME affiliate, Madison-based Local 1 went from 1,000 to 122 members. To keep the union alive, “99 percent of what the staff does is organize,” explained AFSCME council director Marty Bell. “Without the ability to bargain, Bell’s union mostly represents members and engages in collective action,” according to The Times. Local affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been similarly decimated—in part because of official resistance to lowering dues—while their counterparts in the National Education Association (NEA) had done better maintaining Wisconsin membership.

Now comes Michigan again, where the most recently enacted state “right to work” law is going into effect for 112,000 public school teachers, who represent one out of every six union members in the state. During all of August, they’ve had a chance to “opt out” of paying for their union representation. In a previous “opt out” period last year, only 1,500 or 1% did. But this summer, teachers have been bombarded with anti-union mailers and newspaper ads–the latter purchased by Americans for Prosperity, a Koch brothers creation. These have urged them to withhold annual payments of up to $822 to the Michigan Education Association and its parent organization, the NEA.

Other major unions in Michigan, including the United Auto Workers (UAW) have multi-year contracts that are in effect until 2015 or later. When those expire, more private sector union members will have the same choice as teachers this summer. As the Associated Press reported August 25, “a significant number of drop outs would deliver a financial blow to labor in a state where it has historically been dominant”—or, at least, far more influential in the past than today.

When a cash-strapped UAW hiked its dues earlier this year, opponents of that measure warned that higher dues might encourage more of the union’s 50,000 Michigan-based autoworkers to drop out next year. Of particular concern is the simmering resentment of more recently hired UAW dues payers, who are demanding changes in the Big Three’s two-tier wage structure that leaves them far below the hourly pay of higher seniority workers. If that issue is not satisfactorily resolved in the next round of auto industry bargaining, the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity may even gain traction in a few auto plants.

Pre-Emptive Organizing Needed

In an anticipation of an unfavorable ruling in Harris v. Quinn, some SEIU and AFSCME locals, with large numbers of home-based workers paying agency fees rather than dues, stepped up their efforts to convert them into actual members, who would stick with the union when and if “free riding” became possible. These efforts have paid off, in some places, but still have a long way to go in SEIU affiliates like United Long Term Care Workers in California. SEIU-ULTCW has publicly claimed to have 170,000 “members” at the same time its U.S. Department of Labor filings showed that 80,000 or more were, in fact,  just “agency fee payers,” with little apparent connection to the union.

Newer additions to the nation’s unionized homecare workforce—like the statewide unit of 27,000 personal care attendants in Minnesota who won union recognition August 26—will need continuous internal organizing, to boost their post-election membership levels. In that new group, only one fifth of the workers eligible to vote actually cast a ballot for or against SEIU, which won by a margin of 60-to-40%. In an open shop environment, under a less friendly governor, the other 21,000 could easily go the way of SEIU’s now lost dues paying majority in Michigan home care.

As former SEIU organizer Jane McAlevey has argued, based on her past union experience in open shop Nevada, “even in the face of campaigns by employers to get workers to drop their membership, workers will continue to be members and contribute from their paycheck when they experience their union as their union.”

Ironically, some of the best examples of what McAlevey calls the “high participation model” of union building can be found in southern “right-to-work” states.  As Wilson and I reported in our “open shop” organizing chapter in Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (Monthly Review Press, 2010), “non-majority” unions have been constructed by public sector members of the Communications Workers of America in Tennessee, Texas, and Mississippi and the United Electrical Workers in North Carolina—all in the absence of formal collective bargaining and any mandatory payment of dues or fees.

These member-driven labor organizations have devised more reasonable dues structures, ways of collecting dues voluntarily, and, most important of all, a workplace and community presence not defined by employer recognition or statute. Their survival and effectiveness depends on worker activity–the kind of member mobilization around job-related and legislative/political issues that labor needs, in many other states, to remain “organized” without the legal props of the past.

 (Steve Early worked for 27 years as an internal and external union organizer for the Communications Workers of America. He is the author, most recently, of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013). For more on his work, see http://steveearly.org/ or contact him at Lsupport@aol.com).  This article is reposted from the blog classism.org

 

A Labor Day Lesson on How Corporations Use Profits

by Harold Meyerson

meyersonharold2 

In corporations, it’s owner-take-all

Labor Day — that mocking reminder that this nation once honored workers — is upon us again, posing the nagging question of why the economy ceased to reward work. Was globalization the culprit? Technological change? Anyone seeking a more fundamental answer should pick up the September issue of the Harvard Business Review and check out William Lazonick’s seminal essay on U.S. corporations, “Profits Without Prosperity.”

Like Thomas Piketty, Lazonick, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, is that rare economist who actually performs empirical research. What he has uncovered is a shift in corporate conduct that transformed the U.S. economy — for the worse. From the end of World War II through the late 1970s, he writes, major U.S. corporations retained most of their earnings and reinvested them in business expansions, new or improved technologies, worker training and pay increases. Beginning in the early ’80s, however, they have devoted a steadily higher share of their profits to shareholders.

How high? Lazonick looked at the 449 companies listed every year on the S&P 500 from 2003 to 2012. He found that they devoted 54 percent of their net earnings to buying back their stock on the open market — thereby reducing the number of outstanding shares, whose values rose accordingly. They devoted another 37 percent of those earnings to dividends. That’s a total of 91 percent of their profits that America’s leading corporations targeted to their shareholders, leaving a scant 9 percent for investments, research and development, expansions, cash reserves or, God forbid, raises.

As late as 1981, corporations directed a little less than half their profits to shareholders, but the shareholders’ share began rising in 1982, when Ronald Reagan’s Securities and Exchange Commission removed any limits on corporations’ ability to repurchase their own stock and when employers — emboldened by Reagan’s destruction of the federal air traffic controllers’ union — began large-scale union-busting. Buybacks really came into their own during the 1990s, when the pay of corporations’ chief executives became linked to the rise in the value of their company’s shares. From 2003 through 2012, the chief executives of the 10 companies that repurchased the most stock (totaling $859 billion in aggregate) received 58 percent of their pay in stock options or stock awards. For a CEO, getting your company to use its earnings to buy back its shares might reduce its capacity to research or expand, but it’s a sure-fire way to boost your own pay.

Exxon Mobil, for instance, devoted 83 percent of its net income to stock repurchases and dividends, and 73 percent of its CEO pay was stock-based. Cisco Systems devoted 121 percent of its net income to repurchases and dividends, and 92 percent of its CEO pay was stock-based.

About that 121 percent: With companies lavishing virtually all their net income on shareholders and executives, the way many of them cover their actual business expenses — their R&D, their expansion — is by taking on debt through the sale of corporate bonds. A number of companies, however — most prominently, IBM — borrow specifically to increase their payout to shareholders. And IBM is not alone. Friday’s Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. companies are currently incurring record levels of debt, much of which, the Journal noted, “is being used to refinance existing debt, being sent back to shareholders as dividend payments and share buybacks, or banked in the corporate treasury as executives consider how to potentially deploy funds as the economy expands.” Many of the companies that have spent the most on buybacks, Lazonick demonstrates, have also received taxpayer money to fund research they could otherwise afford to perform themselves.

What Lazonick has uncovered is the present-day American validation of Piketty’s central thesis that the rate of return on investment generally exceeds the rate of economic growth. Indeed, Lazonick has documented that wealth in the United States today comes chiefly from retarding businesses’ ability to invest in growth-engendering activity. The purpose of the modern U.S. corporation is to reward large investors and top executives with income that once was spent on expansion, research, training and employees. To restore a more socially beneficial purpose, Lazonick proposes scrapping the SEC rule that permitted rampant stock repurchases and requiring corporations to have employee and public representatives on their boards.

Lazonick’s article does nothing less than decode the Rosetta Stone of America’s economic decline. The reason only luxury and dollar stores are thriving, the reason German companies outcompete ours, the redistribution of income from workers to investors – it’s all here, in Lazonick’s numbers.

The lesson for Labor Day 2014 couldn’t be plainer: Unless we compel changes such as those Lazonick suggests to our model of capitalism, ours will remain a country for investors only, where work is a sucker’s game.

This article appeared on the Opinions Page of the August 26 issue of the Washington Post and is reposted with the permission of the author. Harold Meyerson is a Vice Chair of DSA. 

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