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November 13, 2009
State and Federal investigations into employment practices relating to foreign workers in the logging industry have led to legal action against logging firms operating in the Maine woods.
Maine Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said that the Maine Department of Labor was notified that the U.S. Department of Labor has debarred Jackman-based E.J. Carrier and Pelletier and Pelletier of Clayton Lake, a move that would prevent the companies from receiving foreign workers under the H-2A Visa program for this season and next year. Both companies are charged with failing to adequately recruit U.S. workers for positions where foreign workers were sought and failing to comply with the audit process. The Federal audit is still ongoing.
Earlier this year Governor Baldacci launched a task force to investigate allegations of inappropriate activity concerning Canadian labor in the logging industry. Commissioner Fortman and other state officials interviewed workers and logging contractors to determine whether Maine workers had an adequate opportunity to apply for job openings as required by federal law.
In a July letter to the Administrator of the Office of Foreign Labor Certification, Commissioner Fortman requested a Federal audit of H-2A requests in the logging industry. 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 that sector. The U.S. Department of Labor responded with a review of thirty-six logging companies operating in the state.
“The law is clear – qualified U.S. workers should have first access to jobs in the Maine woods,” said Fortman. “The Maine Department of Labor is committed to working with Federal authorities and employers to ensure Maine loggers are not unfairly being denied work as a result of the H-2A visa program.”
The H-2A Visa program allows qualified agricultural and logging employers to hire foreign workers for temporary or seasonal work. The certification process requires employers to state that they have actively recruited U.S. workers for jobs and attest that there were no applicants who were able, willing, qualified, and available for the jobs. In September, the Obama administration announced new rules that call for stronger protections for U.S. workers and tougher penalties for violations.
In addition to facing debarment, the companies could face further legal action by the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice if the employer discouraged eligible U.S. workers from applying, failed to hire, or discharged or otherwise discriminated against an eligible U.S. worker.
The state has also taken action against three other logging companies for alleged violations to the Maine proof of equipment ownership law. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has filed three cases in Caribou Superior Court alleging that A.D. Logging, Inc., B.J. Jalbert, Inc. and S.L. Logging, Inc. have violated state law requiring employers to provide proof of ownership of logging equipment operated by H-2A workers in Maine.
The Maine Department of Labor will hold a public hearing on proposed changes to rules governing the proof of equipment ownership law. The session will be held in Fort Kent in December and the time and location will be announced when the draft rules are released later this month.