Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine supports legislation to encourage youth loggers and truckers
AUGUSTA – The Professional Logging Contractors (PLC) of Maine and U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine have partnered together to develop legislation to assist the logging industry in Maine and across the country in a time of need. The proposed legislation, the ‘‘Securing America’s Next Generation of Safe Loggers and Truckers Act,’’ which was introduced in Congress today by Congressman Poliquin, will help family logging companies sustain themselves for future generations.
The bill will amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to allow 16 and 17-year-old children to be employed by their parents in certain logging operation activities and would also lower the minimum age requirement for the operation of commercial motor vehicles across state or international borders.
The goal of the legislation is to strengthen Maine’s strong family logging heritage and secure the future of an industry that capitalizes on Maine’s abundant natural wood resources while directly employing more than 2,300 people. Maine’s loggers are a vital part of the state’s forest products sector, which is worth an estimated $8 billion annually.
“Maine is home to the best loggers and truckers in the Country. Unfortunately, the logging and trucking workforce is declining due to obsolete regulations that are prohibiting our young Mainers from choosing this career path,” said Congressman Bruce Poliquin. “The Securing America’s Next Generation of Safe Loggers and Truckers Act will remove outdated regulations that are hindering the logging and trucking workforce. Our young Mainers should be given every opportunity to explore a career as a logger or trucker in their formative years and this legislation will ensure it for future generations.”
Nationwide the logging industry is facing a labor shortage that is mirrored in Maine: The number of logging firms in the state is shrinking and fewer young people are carrying on the family tradition.
“Timber harvesting and log hauling have a long and storied history in the State of Maine,” said Dana Doran, Executive Director of the PLC. “Both are family-based businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation to create an $8 billion forest products industry. The Securing America’s Next Generation of Safe Loggers and Truckers Act will ensure that family-based businesses in the State of Maine can sustain themselves for the long term. Without common sense legislation like this, the future of this industry will continue to be at risk.”
Like farming and ranching, the timber harvesting profession is dominated by family-run businesses where the practices and techniques of harvesting and transporting forest products are passed down from one generation to the next.
In many respects, timber-harvesting operations are similar to those of family farms, with sophisticated and expensive equipment requiring young men and women to learn equipment operation and maintenance before the age of 18. Other agricultural businesses, including farms and ranches, enjoy exemptions to existing child labor laws that permit family members between the ages of 16 and 17 to participate in and learn the operations of the family businesses under the direction and supervision of their parents. However, young men and women under the age of 18 who are members of families that own and operate timber harvesting companies are denied the opportunity to work and learn the family business because of current child labor laws.
Safety is of primary concern to the PLC, and the bill introduced by Rep. Poliquin would only apply to those 16 and 17-year-old children working under the direct supervision of their parent or guardian in a mechanized operation owned or operated by such parent or person. The bill excludes the manual use of chain saws for felling and processing timber as well as operating cable skidders, which are not considered mechanized timber harvesting.
The bill has the support of the American Logging Council (ALC), a non-profit organization representing timber harvesting professionals in 30 states as well as the Maine Motor Transport Association.
“The Securing America’s Next Generation of Safe Loggers and Truckers Act will help to ensure that the next generation of timber harvesters and log haulers will be able to pick up the family businesses that are inherent to the industry, and help rural American’s recover from the economic recession that continues to plague forest dependent communities by sustaining jobs in the industry while training the next generation of professional loggers,” said Danny Dructor, Executive Vice-President of the ALC.
The legislation introduced by Rep. Poliquin was prompted by the needs of Maine’s logging industry in the forest, but it will also assist this industry in overcoming a strong need for drivers that can move logs to market in a safe and economical manner. The commercial trucking industry, which is vital to Maine’s logging industry, would also benefit because the legislation would remove interstate commerce restrictions that prevent drivers under the age of 21 from driving more than 100 air miles or crossing a state or international border.
The issues facing the logging and trucking industries in Maine are not unique to the state, and other legislation has been introduced by legislators in other parts of the U.S. in recent months to address them.
In March of this year, Congressman Raul Labrador (R-ID) introduced H.R. 1215, the Future Logging Careers Act, in the United States House of Representatives, a bill crafted with similar goals to that introduced by Rep. Poliquin. The bill has been referred to committee.
In June, S. 1672, the Commercial Driver Act, legislation to allow states to lower the age for a commercial, interstate license to 18, was first introduced in the United States Senate by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and was incorporated into a larger transportation bill introduced by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Fischer. That bill has also been referred to committee.
The PLC considers the challenge of encouraging and training young people to enter the increasingly complex logging and trucking industries a top priority and has spearheaded multiple efforts to address the issue.
This year, as a result of a unique collaborative effort between the PLC and Eastern Maine Community College, Northern Maine Community College and Washington County Community College, the four organizations have developed a first of its kind post-secondary Mechanical Forest Operator Training Program model that will be accessible throughout the state of Maine.
The intent of this new program is to leverage established infrastructure at the colleges in three of the most heavily harvested regions of the state. Each of these campuses has established trade and technical programs that will further support the development of this new program as well as vast experience in workforce training utilizing advanced technologies and best practices. The program is also a natural enhancement to some of the community college’s existing programs in diesel hydraulics, heavy equipment, and commercial driving.
The certificate program will be offered on a rotating basis at different locations throughout central, northern and eastern Maine, and has been designed to produce professional equipment operators with the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill industry vacancies in mechanical forest operations. In classroom and hands on settings, students will be taught machine operation and repair, maintenance, harvesting laws, best management practices and safety. Students that complete the program will also receive industry recognized safety certification.
The program was created through LD 1373, An Act to Create the Put ME to Work Program, a bi-partisan effort by members of the Maine Legislature. Funding and language from this bill was included in the Maine budget, which was passed by both the House and Senate on June 30th. It is the goal of the PLC and the colleges to get the program up and running by January 2016 at a location near the Millinocket area.
According to a recent study by Todd Gabe, Professor of Economics, University of Maine, the Maine forest products sector is worth about $8 billion annually. The total employment impact of 38,789 jobs (2011) in the forest products industry (2,304 are from logging) is equivalent to 4.86% of all jobs in Maine. In layman’s terms, this means that one out of every twenty jobs in Maine is associated with the forest products sector.
Founded in 1995 with a handful of members who were concerned about the future of the industry, the PLC has grown steadily to become a statewide trade association which provides independent logging contractors a voice in the rapidly changing forest products industry. Board membership consists of only loggers, making it an organization that is run by loggers on behalf of loggers. PLC members are responsible for 75 percent of the timber that is harvested from Maine’s forests annually.
Learn more about the PLC at www.maineloggers.com.