The Star-Herald

Putting Maine workers first requires action

On Independence Day, we celebrate our nation’s heritage and our American values. However, this year it seems disingenuous to celebrate what it means to be American when the state is failing to look out for American workers and their families here in Maine. If we are serious about putting Mainers first and strengthening our rural economy, then the Legislature must adopt policies that benefit working people.

Unfortunately, days before the Fourth of July, the governor vetoed two critical bills that sought to help workers in rural Maine. It’s clear that not everyone in Augusta understands what working people in Maine’s traditional rural industries experience every day.

The governor vetoed legislation I proposed to prioritize the hiring of Maine workers and residents for Maine logging and trucking jobs. In Maine, too many workers in the Maine woods are losing out on work to Canadian labor, which is cheaper due to the exchange rate and subsidized health care system. It’s not fair and it’s holding back Maine’s rural economy.

When I proposed a similar bill that would punish companies for outsourcing Maine work, I was told I need a different approach and the bill was killed by staunch opposition. This year, I met with the governor and leaders in the logging industry to develop a compromise bill that rewards companies for hiring Maine workers. It wasn’t a perfect bill and it didn’t end the practice of outsourcing work, but it was a good start.

Another critical piece of legislation made changes to Maine’s unemployment system so it works better for Maine workers in traditional industries who experience temporary unemployment for brief periods throughout the year. To access unemployment insurance benefits now, individuals must file weekly work searches. While this makes sense for most people, it doesn’t make sense for Maine truckers, loggers, construction workers and many others who find themselves temporarily laid off but have an agreement to return to a specific employer in a few weeks.

In the past, the Maine Department of Labor granted work search waivers to folks who are temporarily unemployed as long as they would return to work with a specified employer in less than six weeks. Many states have this policy to streamline the process and make it easier for people in rural industries to get temporary benefits. This year, the Maine Legislature passed a bill to restore this policy but it was vetoed by the governor.

What’s especially frustrating to me, is that I tried to work across the aisle and with the governor on both these issues. I even invited him up to a logging roundtable last December, where he heard directly from workers themselves about the issues they face regarding unfair Canadian competition and dealing with Maine’s unemployment system. When he left the roundtable, he even expressed some support for these policy changes. It is just another example of the governor saying one thing and doing another.

Fortunately, we have one more chance to make things right. When the Legislature returns, we must override these harmful vetoes and enact policies that support Maine logging families.

I came to Augusta to fight for working Mainers and their families in rural Maines and I certainly am not going to stop now. Maine workers deserve a government that works for them, not against them.

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