AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate enacted landmark legislation from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would allow loggers and wood haulers to form cooperates and collectively bargain on Tuesday. The final vote on enactment was 23-11.
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 antitrust exemptions to form their own cooperatives.
“Maine loggers and haulers deserve the same collective bargaining rights as everybody else. We deserve fair wages, safe work environments and reasonable hours. For too long, Maine loggers and wood haulers have been taken advantage of by large landowners, who hold significant power over these workers and their ability to provide for their families,” said President Jackson. “This bill is about righting a wrong and giving Maine loggers and haulers control over their own lives.”
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.
The Forest Stewardship Council actually requires that employees have the right to organize and negotiate with an employer as a part of their certification for sustainable harvesting. This certification ensures forests and forest products are responsibly harvested in terms of social, ecological, economic and environmental factors. It’s considered the gold standard across the country and is widely used by the forest products industry in Maine.
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. 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.
LD 1459 will now go to the governor’s desk. Gov. Mills has ten days to sign the bill into law, let it go into law without her signature or veto it.