BANGOR – Though most participants in a logging hearing Friday at Husson College’s R.E. Dyke Center for Family Business agreed that Maine’s forest products industry faces significant problems, no one had a quick fix.
The industry, according to many employed in it, is being bled to death by such problems as competition from heavily subsidized counterparts in Canada and other countries, cumbersome federal and state policies, costly mandates and, in Maine, an oppressive tax burden, to name a few.
Meanwhile, the state is pumping big bucks into promoting tourism but is doing relatively little to market and promote its wood products. Loggers are leaving their employment field in droves, most for work that pays more, is safer, and often in other parts of New England and the United States.
These were some of the issues raised during a sparsely attended public hearing convened by the Round Table to Study Economic and Labor Issues Relating to the Forest Products Industry, formed by the Legislature to examine logging issues.
The 20-member panel has been meeting since last October and is slated to submit its final findings to the Legislature in early December.
The committee’s preliminary results include six findings and seven recommendations for remedial action. The study focused on Workers’ Compensation coverage; independent contractor status vs. being a company employee; the bonded labor program; marketing and assistance programs for loggers; trends in logging; and secondary-level education for wood harvesting and forestry training.
Though committee leaders said earlier that they hoped many loggers would attend, the hearing drew only about a dozen people who weren’t on the panel, only one a working logger.
At least two of those who testified – Jon Olson of the Maine Farm Bureau and Rep. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro and the Legislature’s only logger – said requiring self-employed loggers to carry Workers’ Compensation insurance would be not only detrimental to small-scale loggers but also ludicrous. Though not a recommendation, the question of such coverage was cited as an additional item for comment.
Olson said the Farm Bureau board concluded that the requirement would force loggers to buy insurance “to prevent a lawsuit that couldn’t possibly occur,” namely a suit filed by a self-employed logger against his employer – himself.
Trahan, a committee member who addressed the panel as a representative of loggers agreed, adding that small operations like his had little if any profit margin to begin with.
Committee co-chairman Rep. Rosita Gagne, D-Buckfield, said a majority of the group supported the recommendations. Some of the most revealing information came from the industry leaders invited to participate in a panel discussion at the start of the three-hour hearing.
Russ Hewitt, an executive with Pride Manufacturing Co., a maker of golf tees and other turned wood products at mills in Guilford and Burnham, cited nearly a dozen different taxes and surcharges collected from the Maine mills and their workers and customers. Combined, the taxes and charges resulted in a production cost that is 25 percent higher than that of Pride’s sister mill in Wisconsin.