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February 1, 2016

Today Marks First Day of Black History Month

via opengathering.org

via opengathering.org

Every year in February, we take part in celebrating Black History Month.  Throughout the next four weeks, we will highlight and celebrate the rich history of African Americans, the achievements of the civil rights movement, and the impact that various civil rights leaders, labor leaders, and union members have had on the fight for civil and labor rights throughout history, and today.

Black History Month’s origins began in 1926, after historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans dedicated the second week in February as “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  In 1976, the celebration was officially recognized and expanded to span the entire month, and every U.S. president since then has celebrated Black History Month during the month of February.

Paying tribute to African American leaders and community members who have fought for fair wages, dignity in the workplace, and the freedom to organize is still important today–despite the progress that many civil rights leaders made in spite of considerable barriers in the 1960’s, our country still faces threats to the Voting Rights Act, racial discrimination in our cities, and many other setbacks to this progress. Even during the ongoing 2016 Presidential campaign, we have seen race-baiting and other derogatory rhetoric from the likes of Donald Trump. The ideas being put forth by many of the Republican presidential nominees do not represent the America that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of–we must continue to honor his and and many others’ significant contributions to the labor movement as we fight for equality in the workplace and beyond, for people of all races and backgrounds.

March 23, 2015

Women’s History Month: Celebrating the Lives of Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

Dolores Huerta, via doloreshuerta.org

The third week of Women’s History Month gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to Addie Wyatt and Dolores Huerta, two extraordinary women who were shaped by the Great Depression, fought for workers’ rights during the height of the American Feminist Movement, and changed the face of organized labor.

Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941.  Although she applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company, African American women were barred from holding clerical positions and she was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

She and her husband were ordained ministers and founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago.  She played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Dolores Clara Fernandez, better known as Dolores Huerta, was born in 1930 in New Mexico, and grew up in the farming community of Stockton, California. She earned a teaching degree at Delta Community College.  During that time, she met her first husband.  She later married Ventura Huerta. In the early 1950s, she worked as an elementary school teacher, and many of her students were the children of farm workers who were living in poverty.  Teaching the children of farm workers had a profound impact on her, and in 1955, she became one of the founders of the Stockton chapter of the Community Services Organization (CSO), which worked to improve social and economic conditions for farm workers and fight discrimination.  Through her work at the CSO, she met Cesar Chavez.

In 1960, she helped create the Agricultural Worker’s Association (AWA), and in 1962, she and Chavez launched the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), the predecessor to the United Farm Workers Union (UFW).

In 1965, she helped to organize the historic Delano Grape Strike and consumer boycott against growers of table grapes in California.  The strike involved thousands of grape workers and was a significant victory for the UFW—leading to a first contract with these growers. In 1967, the NFWA combined with the AWA to create the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee. During this time, she negotiated contracts for workers, fought against the use of harmful pesticides, and advocated for unemployment and healthcare benefits for agricultural workers. In 1973, she led another successful consumer boycott against California grape growers that resulted in the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, which allowed farm workers to form unions and bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Dolores Huerta stepped down from her position at the UFW in 1999, and established a foundation where she continues her work to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and women. She has received many honors for her activism, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.

To learn more about Dolores Huerta, follow her on Twitter (@DoloresHuerta) or visit her foundation’s website at http://doloreshuerta.org/.

March 16, 2015

Women’s History Month: The Fight for Maternity Leave and Fair Treatment for Pregnant Workers Continues

rtbDid you know that the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t mandate maternity leave? The rest of North America, most of South America, Russia and Europe, Australia and some African an Asian countries all mandate both maternity AND paternity leave, but in the U.S., leave isn’t guaranteed by law for either parent.

Only nine countries don’t have laws that guarantee some paid leave for new mothers: the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname, Tonga — and the United States. It’s 2015. How is this possible?

Although there have been many improvements in labor conditions for women in recent years, paid maternity leave is unattainable for countless women working in the United States.

But many progressive organizations, worker groups, and unions like the UFCW are fighting to change that.

In a recent status report on the well-being of women world-wide, the Clinton Foundation noted that “paid maternal leave supports women’s continued employment, job stability, and longer-term wage growth.”

Jessica Milli, a senior research associate at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) has also noted that “women still take on a disproportionate part of the care burden and have to take more time off. This has huge implications for their earnings, and their overall experience in the workplace.”

Thanks to worker activism, some employers are seeing the value in providing more paid maternity leave for their female employees, and are realizing that they are far more likely to retain their staff by doing so.

Recently, telecom company Vodafone announced that it will start giving full pay for the first 16 weeks of maternity leave for women and 100% of salary for a 30-hour week for the first six months after their return to work, making the company one of the first multinationals to introduce a worldwide minimum level of maternity pay.

Not only is this a significant help to women at the company, but Vodafone also revealed research that showed global businesses worldwide could save $19 billion a year by providing 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave.

The analysis found that recruiting and training new employees to replace women who leave the workforce after having a baby costs $47 billion– far higher than the $28 billion cost of the extra benefits.

At Walmart–America’s largest retailer and private employer of women–there is still much work to be done in regards to getting better treatment for pregnant workers. In response to unethical and potentially unlawful treatment of pregnant workers and the widespread financial hardship forced onto working women at Walmart, Walmart moms formed together to create the group Respect the Bump.

Since banding together they have called for Walmart to publicly commit to better pay and protections at the country’s largest employer of women. With the support of the country’s leading women’s rights advocates, the group developed a list of urgent policy changes the company must make to ensure that the women who are helping the company profit are not living in poverty or putting their health at risk.

Thelma Moore, a member of Respect the Bump, was fired for taking time off to ensure her pregnancy was viable after an in-store accident. “Walmart could be paving the way for good jobs for working moms like us,” said Moore. “Instead, we’re fighting for bathroom breaks when we’re pregnant and steady schedules that let us get reliable childcare and put food on the table.”

The mothers of Respect the Bump are still working hard to advocate for better treatment, but in early 2014 their efforts payed off when Walmart quietly overhauled its pregnancy policy to provide basic accommodations for employees experiencing complications with their pregnancies, in a shift that could ease the way for hundreds of thousands of its other female employees who could have babies down the road.

Women’s History Month is the perfect time to reflect on how far women workers have come, but it should also serve as in important reminder that women are still not always treated equally in the workplace. For women, belonging to a union helps ensure a level playing field, protect against gender discrimination, and provides greater benefits than non-union counterparts.

February 17, 2015

Black History Month: 50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act

Fifty years ago at the height of the civil rights movement, our country’s immigration policy was radically changed. The Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as thImmigration_Bill_Signing_1965e Hart-Celler Act, abolished the national origins quota system which favored some Europeans and excluded Asians and Africans and established a new immigration system that focused on attracting skilled labor to the United States and reuniting immigrants with their families.

The 1965 law, which opened the door to immigrants from Asia, Africa and Latin America and changed the demographic makeup of our country, was signed by President Johnson at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965. An excerpt from President Johnson’s speech is as follows:

This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.

This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country–to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit–will be the first that are admitted to this land.

The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system.

Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants.

Families were kept apart because a husband or a wife or a child had been born in the wrong place.

Men of needed skill and talent were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents.

This system violated the basic principle of American democracy–the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.

It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country.

Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.

Today, the fight to create a fair and just immigration policy and make our country a more open place continues. It’s time to reform our country’s immigration system and create a clear and fair path to citizenship for aspiring Americans so that they can live and work without fear.

February 11, 2015

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre Honors the African-American Labor Leaders Who Have Inspired Him in His Work

Reposted from Huffington Post

By Tefere Gebre:

AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre stands with Walmart workers on Black Friday 2014

AFL-CIO Vice President Tefere Gebre stands with Walmart workers on Black Friday 2014

Every February, people across the country celebrate Black History Month. We honor the heritage and struggle of African-Americans in the United States while looking with hope towards the future. This year, I am honored to look back at organizers and activists who inspire me daily in my work as a leader in the labor movement. The history of the modern labor movement, which is positioned to speak, fight, and win on behalf of all workers, is filled with strong black figures who fought for civil and economic justice during a time when justice was not guaranteed for all.

When I arrived in the United States at the age of 15 as a refugee of war-torn Ethiopia, I struggled to take care of myself financially while also trying to focus on my academics. When I started college at Cal Poly Pomona on an athletic scholarship, I also got a job as a night shift loader for UPS as a member of Teamsters Local 396. UPS was my first union job and it opened my eyes to the world of labor and all of the trailblazing African-American organizers who had come before me.

People like Bayard Rustin who persevered in the face of threats and violence in his efforts to organize workers on behalf of the trade unionists. Despite enduring multiple arrests and beatings, Rustin continued in his work and went on to help organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom alongside A. Philip Randolph, another great African-American labor leader. The March on Washington was the largest demonstration the United States had ever seen, bringing together hundreds of people in the struggle for better jobs and better lives.

Thanks to the work of activists like Rustin and Randolph, all African-Americans have moved closer to achieving the goals of justice and equality set forth by the civil rights movement. Rustin and Randolph are important examples of the positive role unions and collective action play in the African-American struggle for economic justice. Today, African-American union members earn 28 percent more than our non-union peers and are far more likely to have good benefits that help us raise families. But there is still work to be done.

Now more than ever, the struggle for civil rights must include good jobs that raise wages and an economy that works for all. Without good jobs, there is no real freedom. While African-American union members are weathering the economic downturn with the aid of collective bargaining, our non-union brothers and sisters are suffering. Today African-Americans have a 10.4 percent rate of unemployment in the United States compared to a 4.8 percent rate for white Americans.

It’s time for the next generation of leaders to take up the torch and work on behalf of all workers. I am grateful for the inspiration that past African-American leaders have left behind for me. This proud legacy continues to motivate fellow activists who are fighting for justice today. Let’s get to work and make them proud.

February 9, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month: Bayard Rustin–An Overlooked Champion of Civil and Labor Rights

image via AFL-CIO

image via AFL-CIO

One of the greatest moments of the Civil Rights era was the March on Washington in 1963–one of the largest non-violent protests to ever occur in America. The March on Washington brought thousands of people of all races together, in the name of equal rights for everyone–whether they were black or white, rich or poor, Muslim or Christian. Dr. Marin Luther King, Jr. made one of his most inspiring and famous speeches at the march, which culminated on the National mall.

But history has often overlooked the man who was the driving force behind this monumental event–a man named Bayard Rustin. Rustin was the one who organized the march, bringing methods used by Gandhi as well as the Quaker religion to Washington to ensure peace, but also impact. It was Rustin who helped shape Dr. King into the iconic symbol of peace he is remembered as.

As a young adult, Rustin worked with many kinds of people who influenced his activism, including ministers and labor organizers. During World War II, Rustin fought against racial discrimination in war-related hiring, and was later jailed for two years after refusing to enter the draft. Then, after protesting segregated transit systems, he was sentenced to work on a chain gang for several weeks.

Despite being punished for his beliefs, Rustin continued to work towards changing things for the better. In 1953, Bayard Rustin arrived in Montgomery, Alabama to partake in the famous bus boycott that kicked off after Rosa Parks was arrested after refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. The boycott brought many civil rights leaders to the area, including a young Dr. Martin Luther King, who had not yet embraced non-violence. But Rustin taught many who were partaking in the boycott how Gandhi had used peaceful tactics to bring change in India, and people saw the importance of these tactics, and began to embrace them, focusing on direct protest.

Rustin was also a champion of workers rights. In 1965, Rustin and his mentor A. Philip Randolph co-founded the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor organization for African-American trade union members. Much of his work emphasized that labor rights were an integral part of the civil rights movement.

Although Bayard Rustin was a tireless activist, his life achievements are unknown to many, and he has even been called the “lost prophet” of the civil rights movement. This is largely because not only was Rustin silenced and threatened like many others were for being a black man speaking out for equal rights, but also because he was openly gay in a time when homophobia and bigotry was rampant. Rustin continued his life as an openly gay man, even after being incarcerated for it, and is seen as a champion of the LGBT movement still today. Despite being beaten, arrested, jailed, and fired from various leadership positions, Rustin overcame and made a huge impact on the civil and economic rights movements.

America has a long way to go before Rustin’s dreams of equal human rights for all are achieved, but without him, we perhaps would not be where we are today. Today, we have a black president, more women in leadership positions, and more of legislation in the states overturning old and outdated laws barring gay couples from marrying. These are just a few examples of the progress our country has made since Rustin’s time, and working people will continue to work so that ALL people have equal rights–at work and at home.

 

February 4, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month: Addie Wyatt

addie wyatt twoEvery year, The UFCW and its members take time to remember people in our union who broke barriers, fought for justice, and paved the way for working class Americans today.

As part of our annual celebration of Black History Month, we’re looking back at beloved UFCW member Addie Wyatt’s story.

Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930.  When she was 17 years old, she married Claude S. Wyatt, Jr.

She began working in the meatpacking industry in 1941 in the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army. Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, which is what she had originally applied to be, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.

In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department. In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.

Addie’s work for the union as well as in her community played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and she joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.

In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.

Addie’s life is a perfect example of how labor rights are civil rights. At her job, in the union, and throughout all aspects of her life, Addie fought to break barriers for women’s equality, strived to better working conditions, and campaigned for fair treatment of all people, no matter what one’s race. Addie is just one of the many UFCW examples that still inspire members today, as they march on the front lines of social justice, and spread the word about sticking together for a voice on the job.

February 2, 2015

UFCW Celebrates Black History Month

130823151139-03-color-march-on-washington-restricted-horizontal-gallery

image via http://www.historia.ro

This week marks the beginning of Black History Month–a time to remember and celebrate the rich history of African Americans and the achievements of the civil rights movement.

Black History Month dates back to 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African Americans dedicated the second week in February as “Negro History Week” to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  In 1976, the celebration was officially recognized and expanded and every U.S. president since then has celebrated Black History Month during the month of February.

This month, the UFCW will highlight milestones in the civil rights movement—including the 50th anniversaries of the march from Selma to Montgomery and the Voting Rights Act.  We will also pay tribute to African American labor leaders who fought for fair wages, dignity in the workplace, and the freedom to organize in spite of considerable barriers, and honor their significant contributions to the labor movement.

August 12, 2014

Member Spotlight: Patricia Bryant

In this week’s member spotlight, we spoke with Local 1208 Member Patricia Bryant who works at Smithfield Foods in North Carolina. Patricia’s story is an inspiring one.

Originally from Ontario, Canada, where she grew up around uncles who had been active in auto unions at the nearby GM plants, Patricia worked as both an illustrator and registered nurse before moving South later in life. After arriving in North Carolina, she needed work and began working at Mountaire Farms, where she remained for a year. Looking for a better job, she moved on to nearby Smithfield Foods, where she has worked and been a union member for almost two years now.

After about a year at Smithfield, Patricia wanted to become more involved in the union and became a steward. She was motivated after seeing some injustices taking place behind the poultry production lines where she worked–such as seeing her coworkers, which Patricia refers to as her friends, being pushed too hard to keep up with fast line speeds, which damage their joints over time. Becoming a steward allowed her to learn more about the rules of the plant and what resources being a union member enabled her to use in order to deal with issues at the workplace.

Patricia says that they now have a new supervisor who actually listens to the workers: “When I talked to him about issues on the line, he opened his eyes to them and heard us out.”

When asked why she believes being active in one’s union is important, Patricia notes that if you can go out of your way to help a fellow person, you should:

“I’ve always been a big mouth,” she laughs, “I think its important because I’ve had the opportunity to go to school and learn about these things–and I don’t think everyone has had that chance–so I have the responsibility to speak out for all those who can’t, and to help others. Being on the line and seeing all these things first hand, I have to.”

“I think unions make better working conditions for everybody,” she adds.

photo (4)Patricia learned that Local 1208 was holding a talent contest, which invited singers, poets, writers, and anyone else to offer up their talents. So Patricia went to Local 1208 President Keith Ludlum and said she’d be willing to paint–a gift she says she gives up to God. Keith gladly accepted Patricia’s offer and told her that that Local would love to have a mural that included Martin Luther King Jr. and former President John F. Kennedy painted on one of their walls. So paint she did. Patricia says she’s been painting since she was 12 years old. “If I see something beautiful, I just have to paint it!”

Now, with the Local planning to potentially move offices, Patricia is planning another mural for Local 1208. She wants to create a surreal painting that features metallic, industrial type imagery and workers, to represent her friends, she says.

Patricia is actively involved in the campaign at Mountaire Farms as well. She has been to two organizing actions, where she sees her friends and former coworkers as they drive into work,and recently attended a gathering of Mountaire workers in which actor Danny Glover came to speak in support of them.

“It’s fun,” she says of the actions, “and when my friends see me wave, pushing for them, hopefully they’ll see that there’s something better on the other side.”

Having worked at Mountaire Farms for a year, and seeing how the union makes a difference at Smithfield, Patricia fights hard for her friends who still work at Mountaire.

“They are going through a whole lot more [than us]–lower pay, benefits that aren’t as good–my friends there work for their families that they are trying to support, and have bills to pay. If they are able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I gotta push for them. These are good people–they go to work everyday, on time, but the industry tends to make us machines with a number. That’s why I’m yelling and pounding the pavement at these actions.”

Patricia also remembers a friend who she worked with at Mountaire, who came from Africa against her will, and ended up at Mountaire. “She works long hours, and has three kids by herself. If she made a little bit more, she could maybe send for her brother that she’s been trying to bring over from Africa. She deserves a good living.”

Patricia also notes that the employers at Mountaire make it hard for the four main ethnic groups at the plant–Mexican, Haitian, African American, and Caucasion folks–to stand together or in some cases even communicate.

“The Haitians speak French, but they fired their translator so now no one in the plant can talk with them,” she says.

That’s why those helping the workers at Mountaire to unionize are trying to connect with each group about issues that matter to them. Now, many of the workers are coming to meetings and taking through the issues they face on the job.

Patricia fights for her former coworkers and friends because she sees what a difference a union job can make in someone’s life, and she works to better conditions at her job everyday.

If you have a story to share about being a UFCW member, contact us here!

July 30, 2014

UFCW President Hansen Statement in Support of Making Union Organizing a Civil Right

UFCWnewsWASHINGTON, D.C. Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), today released the following statement regarding the Employee Empowerment Act.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to organized labor as the ‘principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.’ He believed, as we do, that union rights are civil rights. For decades, these rights have been under attack by those who want to deny workers a voice on the job. Workers are routinely fired or otherwise retaliated against for standing up and speaking out. This is against the law. But too many employers would rather pay fines under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) than allow for a process that lets workers choose a union freely and fairly. To them, these minimal penalties are not a deterrent, but the cost of doing business.

“The Employee Empowerment Act would amend the NLRA to give victims of labor discrimination the same protections available under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Currently, back pay is the only remedy available to these workers. Passage of this legislation would give victims the right to sue for compensatory and punitive damages in federal court, ensuring employers are held appropriately accountable for illegal retaliation and truly discouraging anti-union activity.

“The rise in labor discrimination hurts all Americans, but especially workers of color. Unionized African-American workers make 36 percent more than their non-union counterparts. For Latino workers, the union advantage is even greater. I urge Congress to swiftly pass this legislation which is good for workers, our economy, and builds on the successes of the Civil Rights Act.”