Monday, May 9, 2011

Supporting Maine Woods Workers

Testimony Opposing LD 1383 – An Act to Improve the Process by Which Logging Contractors Hire Legal Foreign Workers, May 6, 2011

by Shelly Mountain
I am from Mapleton and the much maligned Aroostook County. My grandfather worked in the woods with horses, my father hauled pulp wood, my husband owns a log truck, and my son would like to. I am here to testify in opposition to this bill that would make it easier to hire foreign labor. I will be 50 years old this fall and the Canadian labor issue has existed all of my life. As a little girl I remember men parking their trucks across Route 11 in an effort to get the attention of Augusta. Senator Jackson has worked hard to find solutions to the problem. Now this legislature appears determined to not only reverse any progress he has made but also to blame the hard working loggers for their own demise. The arguments I have heard against Maine loggers are varied and vague.

When I asked two Aroostook County representatives why they voted against Maine loggers they told me that no one came here to speak in their favor. To the extent that some truth exists in that it is because they fear reprisals that would worsen their already bad situation. In asking people to come down here today I was told that they would like to, that they are frustrated that their own equipment sits idle while Canadians are working, but that they couldn’t testify because they want to keep the jobs they do have. I understand that and in fact share that fear myself. I worry that my testimony may threaten my own family’s livelihood.

Representative Peter Rioux has argued that Canadian labor should be favored because, “they are more productive, they show up for work . . . they work harder, they complain less.” I have invited Rep. Rioux to spend a day working with my husband to understand how productive and hard working he is. I invite any of you to do the same. But you had better go to bed early the night before because his day starts at 1:00 in the morning and you had better be prepared for an overnight because he often sleeps in his truck. I should add that he does this all without complaint.

Representative Crockett is quoted in the Bangor Daily as saying, “the reality is bonded labor keeps the price of wood down, it keeps mills open and it keeps a market for people like my dad who sell wood.” It is not the purpose of the legislature to manipulate the price of wood and doing so is a violation of federal trade law and the bonded labor program. Bonded labor has been used in Northern Maine for a long time and it has not prevented the closing of mills there, rather it has accelerated it.

In the BDN Senator Trahan has dismissed Senator Jackson’s efforts as just, “an issue for the loggers in his district. But for everyone else in the state it could create a serious disadvantage.” I have left messages for Senator Trahan asking him to explain how hiring Maine labor creates any kind of disadvantage but he has never gotten back to me. I assume he is also talking about keeping the price of wood down. The wood that is harvested and trucked by Canadian labor is for the most part not going to Maine mills. As I have said there are few mills left up there for it to go to. This wood that these legislators are trying to manipulate the price of is all going to Canadian mills to employ more Canadians. The wood then comes back as a cheap, subsidized, finished product that undercuts our industries and puts even more Mainers out of work. The bonded labor program is only supposed to be accessed when domestic labor is unavailable. There are many Maine loggers whose equipment sits idle while foreign labor is doing the job and they are defaulting on loans for that equipment. No matter how some try to construe it, Maine’s economy and certainly Maine’s workers do not benefit from the hiring of Canadian labor.

I urge you to do the right thing and support Maine loggers by voting against this bill. It is wrong to make it easier to hire foreign labor that takes jobs away from hard working, productive Maine loggers.