‘Our Union Has to Fight for the Most Vulnerable’–A BMCC Prof.’s Response

I agree with Mike’s points.

Still, total silence from Barbara on [the] open letter.

Our union has to go back to first principles: fight united—first and foremost—for those brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable.

What happens for adjunct faculty when their health insurance is cut in a month? I read the letter that was circulated, and after three reads, I still could not figure out what an adjunct is supposed to do (they are advised to “continue with scheduled medical appointments”??).

At a bare minimum, this is a profound break in internal union solidarity and democracy. Adjuncts are the teaching majority, they pay dues, but their most immediate concerns (pay, job security, and health insurance) are being de facto disregarded.  The PSC is not a union of “full-timers” only, last time I checked.

As first steps, we need to hear a public response to [the open] letter, with a clear explanation of how, when, and why the $5K demand, and the continued provision of health insurance, will be addressed by the PSC leadership in the current moment.

Arto Artinian, assistant professor, political science, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY

Day 9–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

Today we posted two additional statements of support for the letter campaign, the first from Graduate Center alum and longtime CUNY adjunct Mike Friedman, the second from longtime adjunct activist Keith Hoeller, of Washington state’s Green River Community College.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 170 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one).

There are now 170 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed. Every day the union leadership doesn’t respond to us only emphasizes our lack of representation.

Our Struggle With the Union Isn’t Unique–A View From a Washington State Community College

The problem adjuncts are having with PSC in New York is far from unique. Whenever adjuncts, who have no job security, are placed into units with tenure-track faculty, the latter tend to dominate. The problem is that the two-tier system creates numerous conflicts of interests between the two tiers and advantages the tenured faculty.

Jack Longmate has pointed out how his NEA union, with few adjuncts and only one handpicked adjunct on the bargaining team (the wife of the union Vice President), bargained away the automatic seniority system for all adjuncts in return for a few multi-quarter contracts that a) no one may end up getting, and b) must be renewed each and every year. At least 80% of the Olympic College adjuncts have lost their job seniority.

At Green River Community College, our AFT-NEA union has many similarities with Jack’s union at Olympic College. It has long been run by and for tenured faculty, especially the Division Chairs who dominate the union executive board. The union contract has long read like a system of Jim Crow laws, basically locking the adjuncts out of nearly everything of any importance.

The Green River union is negotiating its first contract in ten years. The tenure-track faculty have been so happy with it, they have rolled it over three times.

There are 150 full-timers and 400 adjuncts at Green River. There are NO adjuncts on the bargaining team. To my knowledge, no adjuncts have ever been placed on the official bargaining team in 40 years. The current team is headed by the union president, who is tenured, and four tenured division chairs.

We wrote to the union president twice, copying the board and all faculty. We insisted that the union add three adjuncts to the five-member bargaining team. We wanted the adjuncts to elect these people.

The union president responded with a brief note ignoring our request, which we first made in October of last year. Not a single tenured faculty member has written to support our request.

In mixed units, grievances for adjuncts are nearly non-existent, especially when they are initiated by actions taken against adjuncts by tenured faculty. Our union always sides with the tenured faculty. We have filed a dozen grievances in the last 18 months, and the union has refused to take any of them to arbitration. The college knows in advance the union will not arbitrate, so there is little incentive for the college to rule in favor of an adjunct, and thereby anger the tenured faculty who control the union.

In effect, our union refuses to enforce the contract when it comes to adjuncts.

I believe this is why in the private sector the NLRB forbids putting tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty in the same bargaining unit. Many states forbid it as well. In Washington, state law forces us into the same unit, which is why we are trying to change it.

Cordially,

Keith Hoeller, Seattle, WA

On ‘Two Tier’ and the Second-Rate Adjunct Health Plan–A Graduate Center Alum’s Response

Although Batson cries foul and claims that “the [PSC] leadership shares the same exact goal of the overwhelming majority of adjuncts—to do away with this horrible two-tier system”—this flies in the face of reality. In practice the PSC leadership has consistently demonstrated that it accepts Two Tier as the institutional and operational framework for labor-management relations. Our demands are merely bargaining chips for them, while they circle the wagons around the most pressing demands of full-timers, their actual “bottom line demands.” They occasionally procure crumbs for us from the masters’ table. Then, according to Bowen and company, we should be “patient”: these are “steps in the right direction.”

The crown jewel of their claim to defend contingents’ interests is our second rate, soon-to-die health plan. But, they had to produce something back in 2007 or 8, because they knew the adjunct health situation was becoming a pressure-cooker, and that the New Caucus, in fact, won the PSC election largely because of that pressure-cooker. During my ten years as a doctoral student at the Grad Center, I went without health care, dental care or eye-care, relying on our sole recourse to the resident nurse practitioner. Then the Grad Center eliminated her position in a budget cut. The health plan we got was second rate. And Bowen and company have hinted that the plan they are negotiating will fall short of the current one. From the outset, the union strategy should have been to demand our inclusion in the faculty health plan, should we choose it. That should have been what was put on the table, on the one hand, and that should have been infused into the very soul of CUNY faculty via a concerted campaign by the PSC leadership.

Their tacit acceptance of Two Tier is sometimes (often?) made explicit, as when they quite deliberately and casually disenfranchised adjuncts for the Pathways “referendum” in the name of expediency.

The union leadership’s acceptance of Two Tier reflects an even deeper level of labor institutionality in our society. Under the historic NLRA, the only fully legal recourse of trade unions was the grievance process, representing a shift from a conception of labor struggle that was collective and direct, to one that was individual and legalistic/institutional (this shift was then enforced through Taft-Hartley and the Taylor Law). Union leaders, anxious not to rock the boat, accepted this shift. Two Tier makes a farce of even this legalistic recourse. Our very insecurity makes us vulnerable should we challenge management abuses. Back in 2002, I was sent a letter of non-reappointment by a CUNY school, shortly after receiving a letter of reappointment. They were not even required to give an explanation. The union filed a grievance, and then agreed to settle after step I for a monetary award, but without winning the grievance. And, of course, I was never able to get a job at that school again. I had a similar outcome when I complained about a health-threatening condition at another school. This time the union didn’t even file a grievance, and I lost any chance of a future position at that school.

Bowen and others have often enough thrown the ball back into our court, claiming that we are too apathetic or heterogeneous. This is an excuse for inaction. They are “leaders”; union leaders; allegedly socially conscious union leaders. Their role is to lead. It is to “educate, agitate and organize” the entire union around adjunct issues. They have some excellent theorists of Freirian pedagogy among the PSC membership. They should use those tools to raise awareness among their own members of the necessity—ultimately, a life or death necessity for the union, itself—of championing adjunct needs. As history has shown, any union leadership worth its salt—and the most successful labor struggles—has placed the needs of the most vulnerable members FIRST.

We adjuncts under Two Tier are essentially academic braceros. And like our undocumented immigrant worker brethren, we need a “Path to Citizenship.” THAT should be explicitly at the heart of the PSC’s strategy, the sine qua non.

In solidarity,

Mike Friedman

Day 8–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

Today we posted to additional statements of support for the letter campaign, the first from longtime CUNY adjunct Harry T. Cason, the second from Adjunct Project coordinator for labor relations Luke Elliott. Cason’s statement, his second in support of the letter campaign, is in response to union executive council member Michael Batson’s statement of Friday, while Elliott’s responds partially to Batson’s as well as the two other statements from executive council members we’ve received.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 159 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one).

There are now 159 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed.

A Note on Method 5/20

We didn’t initially post union executive council member Michael Batson’s response to the open letter because he was not one of the original recipients of the open letter, but we distributed it via the Adjunct Project listserv and the national contingent-academics listserv on Friday, May 16.
Batson’s response, however, has spurred a response by longtime CUNY adjunct Harry T. Cason, who previously offered this statement in support of the letter campaign. And Luke Elliott, Adjunct Project coordinator for labor relations, responds in part to Batson as well. Accordingly, we posted Batson’s response today.
To sign the open letter, go here.

Response to Open Letter by Adjunct Project Coordinator for Labor Relations

Fellow Union Members—

It has been exciting and educational to follow the conversation surrounding the open letter to Barbara Bowen, the president of our union, the Professional Staff Congress. It is clear from the many positive responses and the few negative ones that the letter has tapped into a vital energy and frustration—at this writing more than 150 people have signed on. Moreover, the letter has sparked a campaign to turn our union’s symbolic commitment to a $5,000/course starting salary for Adjuncts into a material commitment at the bargaining table (sign the petition here!). I can hardly think of a better outcome of an open letter, whatever exactly its tone.

Perhaps what I find most interesting are the understandably defensive responses to the letter from several members of our union’s New Caucus leadership.* These responses strike me as useful reminders of the fact that our union leadership is progressive and has won some fights for and with Adjuncts. I am sympathetic to this case and have been around the labor movement long enough to know that even leadership with the best politics is often caught between the rock of the boss and the hard place of labor law. In short, I have genuine empathy for the circumstances faced by our union leadership.

But I have also been around the labor movement long enough to know that some leaders are excited and inspired by rank-and-file organizing, while others feel threatened by it. If we at CUNY are going not just to slow or to halt but rather to reverse and ultimately break the two-tier “adjunctified” system under which we labor, it is going to take deep and creative organizing. To start with the basics, somewhere between 20 and 25% PSCers have not even signed a union card. There are nearly 5,000 people covered by our contract who have not taken the first step toward participating in the union. The lack of urgency to engage these potential members—who are, in all likelihood, not apathetic but rather the most vulnerable and least represented among us—is disturbing.

Moreover, the open letter references a modest proposal put forward by Graduate Assistants and Adjuncts, requesting that they have flexibility in which PSC Chapter they join. This proposal has sat on the table for months without a substantive response from the leadership. One begins to develop the impression that when Adjuncts attempt to address the issues they face, it is viewed as a hijacking of the time needed to deal with “real” union issues. In fact, the issues faced by Adjuncts are central to reversing the “adjunctification” of CUNY. Simply put, Adjuncts must be so organized, so angry and so prepared to better their conditions that the two-tier system becomes untenable—indeed $5k/course or, even better, full parity would obviously help to incentivize CUNY to transform contingent labor into full time positions.

I sincerely hope that the New Caucus leadership has the tenacity, the open-mindedness and the creativity to make serious strides in reversing the two-tier system. Sean Kennedy, who drafted the initial open letter, has taken to signing his emails “Rank-and-file union democracy now!” If we are going to tackle the issues at hand, this prospect must be as exciting to the New Caucus leadership as it is to the many PSC members who have endorsed the open letter and the campaign for $5k.

In earnest,

Luke Elliott, PSC member; labor relations coordinator, The Adjunct Project; PhD student, sociology

*For those new to the PSC, unions are required by federal law to have elections every three years. Caucuses are essentially political parties within the union that run for offices in these elections. Our current leadership comes from the New Caucus, which took control of the union starting in 2000.

[To sign the open letter, go here.]

A Long-Time Adjunct’s Response to Executive Council Member Statement

Mike believes that our present Union leadership wants to do away with the two-tier labor system at CUNY, and for that matter the two-tier system in the American University system as a whole. I too do not doubt this.

But what does doing away with the two tier system mean for this leadership and what would it mean for adjuncts?

Well, the answer is nobody really knows. We do not talk about it, say, at Delegate Assembly meetings, because our leadership has never brought it up. Since there are so many other more important matters concerning full-timers (the real university), we just have not had the time.

True, we followers are somewhat to blame for this subject being ignored, but….we are, after all, just followers. I believe the rules are to look at the leadership, if we must insist in continuing to play this right-wing game known as liberal democracy.

I have complained for years over the lack of democratic inclusion in our Union, and this is a prime example. The silence has been deafening.

Fusion (for those who know what this was) is another example of where a lack of democratic participatory opportunity once again reined over our heads. This project so potentially dear to all adjuncts was again begun, done and failed in quiet anonymity. Mike, why do you tout this failure?

Now as far as the PSC leadership’s valiant fight to maintain health insurance is concerned, if this Union cannot maintain the one serious benefit adjuncts have (which by the way only 12-15% of us obtain), then you guys should just hang up your hats.

Mike you also speak of the time and energy put into keeping adjunct concerns before the administration. But if this minimalist goal cannot be done (reminding the admin that we still exist), then what else would there be to do for adjuncts?

Yes, collecting data on the releasing of adjuncts could be useful, Mike, but what useful thing came of it, and what would the leadership do if they found something disturbing?

Now let’s get serious. What about the fight over Pathways, and how the PSC leadership denied adjuncts the right to vote on the issue of “no confidence.” This was an opportunity to root out some of that apathy to which you refer. But instead, you supported adjuncts not being included. Well, so much for democratic inclusion.

And what about the strict enforcement of the 9/6 rule? You admit yourself that it was a big mistake, but then suggest in the next line that maybe it was not that bad. However, I am sure you know that the very few conversion lines that came through for adjuncts did not come as a result of the 9/6 debacle.

Mike, you also suggest that the PSC leadership did not choose the historical moment we are presently living through, and this is true. But I have pushed for 15 years the idea that the PSC needs to go on a serious ideological offensive. We (excuse me – the Union leadership) have incredible resources at their finger tips, but these resources remain silent and unused.

Numerous concrete suggestions I and others have made have been simply ignored. In fact a number of full timers have left the Union because of this. And this is particularly why I cannot take this leadership serious or believe in their sincerity regarding adjuncts.

I love you Mike because you are a fellow being, a brother, but I do not appreciate your political actions.

Harry T. Cason, adjunct, College of Staten Island, CUNY

[To sign the open letter, go here.]

Union Executive Council Member Responds to Open Letter

As a long-serving adjunct, I share frustration at our continued contingent condition.

Even after 15 years of service with an excellent reputation amongst students and colleagues, I worry at the end of each semester whether I will have enough work in the next semester to make the bills. At this very moment I am watching the enrollment numbers for a summer course I am scheduled to teach, anxious that it won’t reach the magic and mysterious cut-off level, and wondering what I will do if it doesn’t run. But to blame the PSC leadership for this state of affairs is both unfounded and unfair. It is one thing to disagree on strategy, but to accuse this leadership (and Barbara personally) of “neglect of us and our issues” is unjustifiable. It is also sad, as the leadership shares the same exact goal of the overwhelming majority of adjuncts: to do away with this horrible two-tier system. My experience as a member of the PSC’s EC and bargaining team has richly illustrated Barbara’s and more generally the principal officers’ commitment to part-time faculty equity. Their commitment (both professional and personal) to this can be seen through the time, energy, and resources that have been allocated to adjunct equity.

Take adjunct health care as an example: while the issue is not resolved, what has been achieved so far is quite astonishing. The $10 million allocated to CUNY adjunct health care was not a gift from on high, but rather was the culmination of a decades-long struggle by this PSC leadership to get CUNY to acknowledge and accept some responsibility for the large cohort of permanent part-timers. Anyone who has been around a while knows how resistant CUNY administration has been to even acknowledging our existence. This happened because of a sustained campaign to keep adjunct issues on CUNY’s radar. Almost every conversation with CUNY incorporated adjuncts in some way. CUNY as a consequence expended quite a bit of political capital to get this done with public decision-makers. When that wasn’t enough, the PSC leadership negotiated contributions from CUNY to make up the difference. To do so required an incredible amount of preparation to come up with precise eligibility numbers and costing estimates. To get as far as we have on this has also taken an extraordinary amount of time, energy, focus, and resources. This is complex work that has produced tangible, concrete benefit. Equally important, it has taken up a substantial part of Barbara’s and the other leaders’ time. Importantly, it is but one of many concrete, tangible pieces of evidence demonstrating the union’s commitment to producing results on matters of equity. In the meantime, the PSC leadership arranged several extensions for those adjuncts receiving health insurance from the welfare fund.

Just to give a bit of perspective, I looked over my calendar for the initial meetings on this issue from Spring of 2012. From April through early June, the adjunct health care subcommittee met 11 times for a total of 23 hours (including preparation meetings, meetings with CUNY, and meetings with the city). This does not include the many, many hours individuals put into preparing the numbers and arguments for each meeting.

Or take the Spring of 2010 as word began to filter back that adjuncts were being let go due to departmental budget cuts. The PSC leadership undertook a massive effort to find out what was going on, in order to determine how best to respond. That project began with Barbara sending out an email and a letter to each and every chair in CUNY asking them to respond to a questionnaire (she personally signed approximately 365 letters). Every department then received a phone call asking about the impact of the budget on their department, primarily the impact on adjunct retention. This data was collected and put in a report that was then presented to the D.A. Again Barbara, and more generally the PSC leadership, invested substantial amounts of time, energy, and resources on behalf of adjunct equity.

I could go on to list the gains that have been made by this leadership (paid office hours, 200 conversion lines, salaries in the last contract that tilted towards the most vulnerable and lowest paid, Professional Development Grants, the FUSE project, etc.). Has all this brought equality? Of course it has not produced such an outcome. But has this work and the contract gains made a real difference in the lives of adjuncts? Absolutely. I could just as easily criticize the leadership for their missteps. How they handled the 9/6 rule crackdown was a huge mistake; but such criticism has to do with how they responded to CUNY’s wantonly violating the contract, and not of their character or concern for adjuncts. (In fact, even here their response is a slightly mixed bag, for on my campus several adjuncts who lost the ability to do overloads are now full-time lecturers due to the conversion lines).

If we look at the current contract demands, we can see that it is based on balancing the needs of the different parts of the bargaining unit. It was constructed from what was essentially a “listening tour” at by the principal officers back in 2010 (maybe 2011), and is guided by solidarity. They heard that adjuncts want security and so that is one of the pillars of the demands.

Any analysis that leaves out the historical and political context in which we operate is unsound. Any analysis that ignores the balance of power in our current system easily leads to making enemies of friends. Sometimes movements have the wind at their backs. At this point in time, it is all headwinds for the labor movement. The PSC has not chosen this particular historical moment, but it does all it can to resist the worst aspects of a neoliberal agenda which aims to privatize and corporatize all that is public, and to turn all workers into mere commodities. It is one thing to disagree with a chosen strategy or particular policy–strategies and policies ultimately decided on by at the D.A.; it is another to attack the commitment and character of people who spend a great deal of their time and energy fighting for our rights. The people being accused of sycophancy of the Democratic Mayor are the very same people that participated in civil disobedience against our Democratic Governor. These are the complex on the ground facts associated with the struggle to produce change.

While adjuncts have every reason to be upset, anxious, and frustrated, I believe that directing it at the PSC leadership is both misplaced and counterproductive. Full-timers, and more largely the PSC, are not the enemy. Those that wish to prostrate all labor and to privatize all that is public are the enemy. Those who wish to narrow our student’s education to serve only the interests of corporate America, to turn them into good workers while ignoring the importance of turning them into good citizens are the enemy. Those that want to plunder the public’s wealth to fill the private coffers of the privileged are the enemy. Apathy is the enemy (in CSI’s recent Chapter election, one that turned largely on which slate would better represent adjuncts, less than 20% of eligible adjuncts voted; in the recent election for adjunct rep on the college council, 8.7% of eligible adjuncts voted; at the May 1st marched behind a banner reading “5K per course for Contingent Faculty,” very few of the 12,000 adjuncts that would benefit from that appeared. It should be noted, meanwhile, that many full-timers and retirees were there).

Finally, I noticed that any and all “investments” won should go to adjuncts and graduate students. That doesn’t sound like solidarity to me. What about the many junior faculty hired after 2009 who have never seen a raise? What about HEO assistants? What about CLT’s? Could you be accused of ignoring their plight?

Eugene Deb’s asked and important question in his essay Labor Omnia Vincit:

“Why is it that labor does not conquer anything? Why does it not assert its mighty power? Why does it not rule in congress, in legislatures and in courts? I answer because it is factionized, because it will not unify, because, for some inscrutable reason, it prefers division, weakness and slavery, rather than unity, strength and victory.”

 I for one will continue to resist dividing the collective at such a critical moment. We are either all in this together or we will all surely lose. Solidarity does not mean we must all agree on every point, but it does require that we stop making personal attacks and seeing every point of disagreement as betrayal.

Sincerely yours in Solidarity,

Michael Batson, adjunct lecturer and part-time personnel officer, executive council, PSC

[To sign the open letter, go here.]

Day 7–No Response from CUNY Union Pres.

Tuesday at 3:40 p.m. I sent an open letter to Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s union, with the subject line “Open letter re your De Blasio statement & your exclusion of adjuncts and graduate student workers.” I copied the union’s first vice-president, treasurer, vice-president for part-time personnel, and executive director on the email, all people we Adjunct Project coordinators have worked with, or attempted to work with, this academic year. I also copied 11 of the 12 members of the newly reconstituted (and elected) Graduate Center chapter slate, omitting one member because I couldn’t find an email for that person. Finally, I copied two higher education officers (HEOs) at the Graduate Center, one of whom is a cross-campus officer on the executive council of the union, both of whom, working together, put together the Graduate Center slate (with no input solicited from the Adjunct Project).

There have been three responses from these 18 people to date, the most recent of which came from a member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Fine, who emailed Saturday that she was speaking with graduate students, adjuncts, and other members of the slate about the issues raised in the open letter. We welcomed this info. (See a previous update for details of the two earlier responses.)

Additionally, another member of the Graduate Center chapter slate, Michelle Chen, who was not among the original recipients of the letter because I couldn’t find her email address, has signed the letter.

I am now sending the letter again to the aforementioned recipients, plus Chen (as I now have her email address), along with the names and affiliations of the 155 signers.

The union leaders and chapter leaders are supposed to represent us. It’s not the other way around.

Read and sign the letter here, or leave a comment here with your name and affiliation (if you have one).

There are now 155 of us, from across CUNY and the U.S., inside and outside of higher ed.

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