The Center Square | by Christian Wade | October 24, 2022
(The Center Square) – A federal appeals court has overturned a Maine law that sought to restrict Canadian workers from using the state’s roadways to transport logging products.
The law, approved by the state Legislature last year, prohibits trucking companies and landowners owning at least 50,000 acres of Maine forest land from hiring anyone who is not a “resident of the United States” to drive a vehicle to “transport forest products” within the state. Fines can run as high as $25,000 per violation under the law.
Earlier this year, a U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the new law from going into effect, siding with the forestry products industry which filed a lawsuit alleging that it violates the state and U.S. constitutions and is preempted by federal immigration laws. The state appealed the ruling, arguing the court’s decision was flawed.
But a ruling issued last week by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling and affirmed the injunction, saying the state’s “methods of protecting domestic workers are, in many important respects, at odds with the federal programs methods.”
“Our system of overlapping federal and state sovereignties gives rise to the possibility that laws can be in conflict or at cross-purposes,” the three-justice panel wrote in the 22-page ruling. “The constitutional rule in such cases, embodied in the Supremacy Clause, makes federal law the supreme law of the land.”
The Maine law was championed by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, a fifth generation logger, who has argued that foreign competition is squeezing the state’s forest products industry.
Jackson argues that the federal government’s practice of issuing H-2A visas to Canadian truck drivers who transport logs within Maine “has depressed wages for Maine people working in the woods and handed large landowners extraordinary power in the industry.”
“Maine loggers and truckers face an uphill battle competing against their counterparts in Canada, who benefit from a favorable exchange rate and government-sponsored health insurance,” Jackson said in testimony on the legislation.
The legislation was intended to restrict foreign workers, under the federal H-2A visa program, which Maine also relies heavily on for agricultural guest workers.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently increased the cap for seasonal guest workers, adding another 65,000 H-2B visas for companies looking to hire landscapers, fisherman and other foreign labor to help fill a labor shortage. The new visas are in addition to 66,000 the government makes available every year to employers.