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July 23, 2009
AUGUSTA – Governor John E. Baldacci today said that early investigations by the State of Maine into logging contracting practices has led to a number of actions by the State. Among these actions, one case has already been filed by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, and numerous other complaints have been filed by the State with the U.S. Department of Labor. The allegations relate to the federal foreign labor certification program, called H-2A.
“We are actively addressing complaints about illegal business practices that lead to Canadian labor being brought into Maine’s woods,” said Governor Baldacci. “The global recession has already put a severe strain on the ability for Maine loggers to access employment. We need to ensure that every opportunity is available to them to find work in Maine, and that they are not unlawfully being locked out of jobs in the State.”
Earlier this month, Governor Baldacci directed Maine Department of Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman to lead a task force after hearing allegations of potential unlawful or inappropriate activities in the area. The multi-agency task force has been reviewing logging activity in the Northern Maine woods and receiving - and following up on - complaints of unfair hiring practices. In addition to the Department of Labor, the task force includes of the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Conservation, the Maine Revenue Service and the Department of Public Safety.
A team of representatives from the Department of Labor and the Department of Conservation were on site in Aroostook County the week of July 6. They conducted reviews and interviewed loggers and employers. In the weeks since, a Bureau of Labor Standards Wage and Hour inspector has continued site visits to logging employers and job sites to review wage records and look for violations to the Maine proof of ownership law for logging equipment.
In a letter to the Administrator of the Office of Foreign Labor Certification, Commissioner Fortman has requested a federal audit of the H-2A waivers. In her correspondence, the Commissioner documented a number of significant concerns that lead the State to believe that there is a substantial adverse impact upon Maine workers in the logging industry. Among the concerns is that some companies hiring Canadian loggers do not appear to have a permanent physical location in the state. This physical presence is required by a logging company that wishes to obtain foreign labor certification.
“The federal government is taking these allegations very seriously,” said Commissioner Fortman. “In some cases, the federal government is temporarily prohibiting new Canadian workers to come into the State while they review the complaints the State has outlined.”
“We will continue to collect information and evidence of these allegations and work with our federal partners to ensure that jobs that can and should be filled by Maine workers are available to them,” said the Commissioner.
Governor Baldacci praised local officials and State legislators for their continued support of the State’s efforts.
“Maine people should know that there are intense efforts from local, state and federal representatives to address these serious allegations,” said the Governor. “While we are making progress, there is much work to be done.”
Anyone who has evidence of unfair hiring practices or has a complaint can contact the Maine Department of Labor at 1-888-457-8883 or TTY: 1-800-794-1110.