Maine Legislators Seek to Improve Working Conditions for Loggers

Two Maine state legislators want to improve wages, living conditions and safety for the state's logging workers, many of whom are citizens of other countries.

State Representative Troy Jackson, an Independent representing an area that includes part of the north Maine woods, introduced bills calling for increased wages for loggers and requiring employers to compensate workers who supply their own saws and other equipment.

Said Jackson, a former logger, "I did exactly the same job in 1986 and I was paid $165 an acre, had to bring my own car but I got travel pay. Now they're doing it for $75 an acre, they buy their own saw and don't have any benefits."

State Representative Sean Faircloth (D, Bangor) is drafting a bill requiring employers to provide housing for workers working at remote sites, so they would not have to make long trips back to their lodgings at the end of a tiring day. The bill also requires employers to provide transportation for their employees.

Last September, 14 workers died when the van taking them back to their lodgings a three-hour trip for some swerved off a bridge and into the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. It was the worst traffic accident in Maine history.

Since the accident, state and federal officials have said that foreign laborers in the forestry industry, unlike migrant farm workers, are not entitled under federal law to employer-provided housing near the job. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R, ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R, ME) asked the Congressional Research Service to look into why the visa laws treat forestry workers differently than agricultural workers.

According to authorities, the cause of the Sept. 12 accident was speeding. The lone survivor, Edilberto Morales-Luis, said the workers, who lived 60 miles away from the job site, were trying to get to work early.

Meanwhile, Patrick Hackley, a forester with the northeast division of the Forest Resources Association, said the industry was improving driving training for workers and teaching them first aid, and was trying to figure out ways to reduce long travel to work.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently fined Evergreen Forestry Services, the Idaho-based subcontractor that employed the workers involved in the crash, $17,000, saying it failed to provide safe transportation, neglected to register the van and the driver and did not include the van on a departmental certificate.

The company has not decided if it will appeal the fine.

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