FORT KENT, Maine — A spokesman for Gov. John Baldacci confirmed Saturday the governor will convene a meeting early this week to discuss the next step in the state’s dispute with Irving Woodlands LLC and that company’s protest of Maine labor law.
Last week the J.D. Irving Ltd. subsidiary halted operations on more than 1 million acres it owns in northern Maine, arguing it is the only landowner affected by the legislation allowing forest workers collective bargaining.
Enacted in 2004, the law was suspended until June 1 and allows loggers who own and operate their own forest equipment to enter into collective bargaining agreements when one forest landowner owns, possesses or acquires economic control over more than 400,000 acres in a labor market area.
Up to 300 jobs in the northern Maine woods are affected by Irving’s shutdown, which has left contractors, woods workers and their equipment idle just as the 10-month logging season was about to begin.
“At the first of the week the governor will convene a meeting to discuss how to move forward on this issue,” Dan Cashman, spokesman for the governor’s office, said late Saturday afternoon.
Among those expected to attend the meeting, according to Cashman, are members of the Aroostook County delegation and representatives of the state’s labor commission.
Baldacci was in northern Maine on Saturday taking part in a daylong forum at the University of Maine at Fort Kent focusing on labor issues in the Maine woods.
While the forum concentrated on laws regulating the use of foreign woods workers in Maine, Baldacci did take a moment to speak to the Irving issue after his formal remarks.
“We are willing to sit down and talk to the Irving officials,” he said. “We know [Irving] works with people and we will work with [Irving].”
Baldacci added it was his understanding those laid off due to Irving’s shutdown had already gone back to work.
In fact, Irving announced Friday that only six employees had been laid off because of the delay in the startup of the season’s timber harvesting and trucking operations.
“We remain confident that we will find a resolve with the [Maine] Legislature which will allow us to restart operations and supply our customer demands,” Irving officials said in a statement.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, co-sponsored the original collective bargaining legislation and on Saturday he said he felt certain the governor was prepared to overturn it in the face of Irving threats.
“I would not be surprised if the governor introduces a law to repeal it,” Jackson said. “People are scared.”
At the time Jackson worked with 66 loggers from around Maine to craft and push the legislation.
Today, he noted, many of those loggers and truckers have moved on to other work in different states.
“We were the only state in this country that allowed that kind of collective bargaining and we never got the chance to use it,” Jackson said. “I won’t vote for a repeal, but I won’t fight it, either.”
Last week officials with Irving said the law unfairly singles the company out, calling the legislation “punitive,” and creating financial burdens making the company uncompetitive.
“Now we’ll see a new law,” Jackson said. “If you are a landowner and you don’t like the way [Maine] is doing business, [you] can shut us down.”