Opinion

Editorial: Hope for industry in Maine

Like most people, I grew up believing in the myth that if you worked hard and saved responsibly, you’d be all set. But that’s just not true. The reality is, the world was built in a way that favors the richest and most powerful among us. And it’s up to us to change it.

Twenty years ago this October was the tipping point for me. It’s when I turned five generations of built up anger and frustration into action as I joined twelve of my logging brothers along the border to block entry from Quebec. We did this to send a message to those at the top, to demand action from our elected officials in Augusta and D.C., and simply because things had been bad for so long that we had nothing to lose.

For years, I watched as large landowners took advantage of the system and exploited cheaper Canadian labor to work in the Maine woods, while Maine loggers struggled to find stable, decent-paying work. Oftentimes, if there was work available, it required leaving your family for great lengths of time and earning much lower wages, as strangers did the same work in your own backyard. It was infuriating to watch these companies violate foreign labor laws with zero repercussions — like they were above the law.

In many ways, the logging blockade and the events that led to it are emblematic of the plight of working people throughout history. It was about profit taking priority over people — the very people responsible for generating the profits in the first place. It was about the folks in charge siding with greedy corporations and wealthy families instead of hardworking Mainers.

Since the 1998 blockade, we’ve made great strides for Maine workers. Wages have increased so more Mainers can get fair pay for quality work. We’ve reduced the number of Canadians illegally working in the Maine woods. But significant challenges remain. Many Maine laborers work ridiculous hours each week without health insurance or without any benefits at all. It’s bad for our state and our economy, as we are running our workers into the ground. We can’t stand for this. It’s just not right.

Each session, I’ve sponsored a number of bills to protect Maine workers, improve working conditions and promote rural industries. While the bills are not always successful on first consideration, with each new debate I’ve witnessed a growing coalition of working-class people and unbelievable momentum in support of working-class values. It’s enough to make me optimistic about the future of our state.

Two decades later, I  still carry with me the anger and frustration from logging blockade every day. The only thing that’s changed is that I have great hope for the future. I’ve already submitted “Hire Maine” legislation for consideration next year and am prepared to fight tooth and nail to see it become law.

Most Mainers are hard workers, who look out for their neighbors and just want to be able to provide a decent life for their families. If things are going to change for working-class Mainers all across the state and a number of industries — farming, logging and manufacturing — it’s going to come down to leadership and a willingness to fight for what’s fair and what’s right.

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