FORT KENT, Maine — State rules and regulations governing the hiring of bonded foreign workers in the Maine woods have become a bit stricter thanks to a bill signed into law last month.
On Friday, May 7, the Maine Department of Labor will hold an informational forum on logging issues in part to help explain the ramifications of “An Act to Protect Maine Workers.”
The forum is slated for 9 a.m. at Fox Auditorium at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.
The law, sponsored by logger and longtime woods workers’ rights advocate Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, adds language to existing laws governing proof of equipment ownership and notification of the use of bonded — or H2-A — workers and provides stiff penalties for rules violations.
“There are some big changes in the policies for the Department of Labor,” Jackson said. “They thought they needed to get out there and explain them to the contractors, landowners and loggers.”
According to Jackson, about 95 percent of the bonded Canadians working in the Maine woods pass into this country through Fort Kent.
Under the new law, any employer seeking to hire bonded workers now must go through a centralized employee “clearinghouse” that will evaluate and refer potential logging workers.
The law also requires the Department of Labor to maintain a list of contractors who are seeking to hire bonded workers and the landowners to hire contractors from that list.
Any violation would result in the contractor getting bumped from the list and a possible $25,000 fine.
Landowners who maintain a working relationship with a contractor not on the list open themselves up to fines of up to $50,000.
According to Jackson, the law also closes a loophole in which Canadian workers were eligible for unemployment compensation from the state of Maine.
“That took $500,000 a year out of the [unemployment] fund,” Jackson said. “The operations involved were only paying in $200,000 a year, so the rest was coming from Maine workers and taxpayers.”
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, had sponsored similar legislation this past year but decided to roll his proposals and Jackson’s into the one bill.
“Troy and I met with the landowners in the governor’s office this year,” Martin said. “We looked at all the proposals and decided to roll them into one bill.”
Friday’s forum is open to the public. Representatives from the Department of Labor and the Maine Career Center will be on hand.
For information on the forum, call the Maine Department of Labor at 621-5095.