Laws only work if they are enforced. The failure to enforce federal cabotage laws and the protections in the H-2A visa program benefits corporations at the expense of Maine truckers.
Canadian workers aren't the problem. It's greedy corporations. These large landowners are exploiting a broken system and hardworking Mainers are paying the price.
The failure to both enforce federal cabotage laws and properly manage the H-2A visa program is depressing wages and eliminating jobs in northern Maine. American workers cannot compete with cheaper Canadian labor, who benefit from a favorable exchange rate, a national health care system and the enforcement of the same policies that protect their jobs from American workers.
FEDERAL CABOTAGE LAW
Under federal law, foreign nationalities are permitted to cross the border to deliver shipments of goods into the United States. These drivers are also allowed to pick up loads in the U.S. and haul goods back across the border to deliver the load within the boundaries of their country of origin. However, a foreign driver cannot engage in cabotage, or what’s known as point-to-point hauling within the boundaries of the U.S.
For example, it would be a violation of federal law for a foreign driver to cross the board to deliver their initial load in the U.S., pick up a subsequent load in the U.S. and deliver that load to another destination within the country. This is what is happening in Maine.
THE H-2A VISA PROGRAM
The H-2A visa program was designed to give farmers the ability to hire short-term workers to pick crops that would spoil in the fields if they weren’t picked in a timely manner and there was a shortage of American workers. The H-2A program was never intended to apply to the international commerce of harvested timber, which unlike produce does not spoil. Landowners currently use H-2A and B1 visas to hire foreign workers, primarily Canadians, for work in the Maine woods in an effort to circumvent federal cabotage laws. However, this violates provisions in the H-2A visa program to protect American workers. The entire H-2A visa program rests on the premise that “the employment of the foreign worker will not have an adverse effect on the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.”
The Maine Woodsman’s Association raised the alarm over the use of bonded-Canadian labor in the northern Maine woods before eventually striking in 1975. Read about the events leading up to the strike here. Read live coverage of the strike here.
As an elected official, I’ve worked to raise this issue at the state and federal level. While there have been minimal changes, the continued misuse of bonded-Canadian labor remains key concern. Read live coverage here.