AUGUSTA, Maine — Three logging firms have been fined for violating state labor laws in the first convictions stemming from a high-profile dispute over the use of Canadian loggers in the Maine woods.
The three Fort Kent-based firms — B. J. Jalbert Inc., A. D. Logging Inc. and S.L. Logging Inc. — each acknowledged to the courts that they had violated a Maine law prohibiting foreign loggers from bringing their own heavy equipment into Maine.
The companies each agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, according to consent orders reached in Aroostook County Superior Court last month.
Use of Canadian loggers in Maine has been a point of controversy for decades, however the economic downturn caused the issue to boil over again last year. Maine loggers, many of whom had been out of work for months, complained to state and federal officials that Canadian contractors were landing jobs that should have gone to Mainers.
Canadian loggers are permitted to enter Maine under a federal law allowing businesses to hire foreigners on a temporary basis when there is a shortage of American labor. But before any foreign laborers can be brought in, those companies must offer the jobs to American workers.
The cases against the three firms did not involve recruitment of workers. Instead, the firms admitted in court that they violated the law requiring logging companies to provide equipment to any foreign or “bonded” laborers.
Sen. Troy Jackson, an Allagash Democrat and logger who has been aggressively pushing state and federal labor officials to crack down on alleged violations, said he was pleased that the cases had been resolved, even if the fines were relatively small.
“It’s a validation for what we have been saying,” Jackson said. “I felt all along that there were 20 to 25 companies that were doing this. The attorney general took three [cases], pushed those through and got a ruling on them.”
Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, said Wednesday that he was pleased to hear of the ruling and that he believed that the size of the fine “didn’t really matter.” What was important, Martin said, was that the state was sending a message to logging companies that the laws would be enforced.
“It is not the fine, really, it is that everyone now knows that they were breaking the law,” he said. “The amount wouldn’t make any difference. This gives us evidence to deny them the bond they need.”
The federal government issues visas for foreign laborers. However, the Maine Department of Labor could cite the violations as grounds for federal labor officials potentially to deny those companies access to the visa program.
James Cote, spokesman for the Maine Forest Products Council, pointed out that there were allegations of as many as 30 violations and that only three cases were prosecuted.
“It’s a sign the this is not as widespread of an issue as was originally believed,” Cote said.
The council also has worked with the state and other organizations to establish a toll-free telephone number that Maine loggers can use to find out about available jobs with firms participating in the visa program.
This clearinghouse will hopefully also help provide all sides with a better understanding of trends in the industry regarding the availability of Maine loggers and the need for temporary, foreign workers, said Patrick Straugh, the council’s executive director.
Jackson, who last year used Maine’s Freedom of Access laws to compile a thick file on potential violations, said he plans to push for more investigations.
Attorney General Janet Mills said she hopes the three cases will help deter future violations but said her office will continue to pursue cases when problems are brought to her attention.
BDN staff writer Jen Lynds contributed to this report.