AUGUSTA — The Legislature’s Committee on Labor and Housing approved a bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would allow loggers and wood haulers the right to form cooperatives, in a party-line vote on Friday.
The bill – LD 1459, “An Act To Expand Application of the Maine Agricultural Marketing and Bargaining Act of 1973 to Harvesters and Haulers of Forest Products” – would provide loggers and haulers the same collective bargaining rights as potato farmers and lobster fishermen, who have been given anti-trust exemptions to form their own cooperatives and collectively bargain.
“Last week dozens of loggers and wood haulers drove hours to ask lawmakers for the right to band together and negotiate for better working conditions – rights that most other workers already have. It took a lot of courage, and we’re already hearing stories of retaliation from landowners,” said President Jackson. “I’m grateful to the members of the committee who took the time to hear how the current system is tilted in favor of the landowners, which has real consequences on the lives of working people. Today’s vote marks an important first step, but we cannot stop fighting until the bill crosses the governor’s desk.”
Logging consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous occupations in America. Loggers and wood haulers typically work extremely long hours for low pay and no benefits. Under current law, loggers and wood haulers do not have the ability to band together to negotiate for fair wages, safer working conditions and better hours.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international organization that ensures forests and forest products are responsibly harvested in terms of social, ecological, economic and environmental factors. The FSC certification is used globally by the forest products industry, including here in Maine, and requires that employees have the right to organize and negotiate with an employer.
“Workers and families have been fighting this battle for generations,” said President Jackson. “All we’re asking for is the right to stand up for ourselves, negotiate better working conditions and the chance to see our families a little more often. It’s not much and it shouldn’t be this hard.”
Maine has made exemptions for Maine potato farmers, fishermen and lobstermen. The Maine Uniform Agricultural Cooperative Association Act was designed to allow agricultural producers to join associations to improve conditions and promote policies that benefit the industry. This bill extends the act to include loggers and wood haulers. Six other states – West Virginia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and California – have forestry exemptions to protect loggers and wood haulers.
Ninety-five percent of Maine’s forest is privately owned. Private companies own 61 percent of that land, while family forestland owners hold title to another 33 percent. This gives a lot of authority to landowners over the roughly 24,000 workers in an industry that annually contributes $1.8 billion to Maine’s economy.
LD 1459 will now go before the full legislature for additional votes.