Well, I agree with Maine Democratic Senate President Troy Jackson on at least one thing.
Actually, that is not fair. In 2013, I worked closely with then-Assistant Senate Majority Leader Jackson to temporarily make the names of concealed weapon permit holders confidential. So there are two things we agree on.
But I digress. This week saw Jackson present a bill which would exempt loggers and haulers from federal antitrust laws under rules presently applied to farmers. There is probably a lot more nuance to the proposal; I’m not sure it’s where we agree.
Rather, one of Jackson’s points was well-made. He — and others — suggested to the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee that the timberland owners were threatening to blackball any harvesters or truck drivers who spoke in favor of the proposal. While it is not clear whether any such threats were made, if they were, they are unacceptable. That was Jackson’s argument, and it’s a good one.
For consistency’s sake, I hope he extends it to Portland. Maine’s largest city has been debating a municipally required paid sick leave ordinance for a while. It is a very complicated issue, and has some very real impacts to smaller businesses without the scale to blithely absorb the complexity and cost. However, Mayor Ethan Strimling and his political allies have suggested boycotts of businesses who dare oppose the proposal.
Landowners blackballing harvesters for their political opinions is wrong. Boycotting small businesses for having a political opinion is wrong. Neither should be countenanced. The economy — and society — doesn’t work if we only trade with those with whom we agree on everything.
That brings us back to the meat-and-potatoes of Jackson’s bill. The headlines suggest it would give loggers the ability to “unionize.” However, the actual law deals with voluntary associations of farmers. It permits them to band together and negotiate as a bloc with “handlers,” which could be a market, broker, or packager. In short, it allows farmers of like goods — broccoli, potatoes, apples — to get an agreed-upon price from a specific buyer.
The analogy does not carry through to timber. The landowners produce the product, and sell it to their “handlers” — sawmills, pulp mills, and the like. However, many of the landowners and their buyers are all part of the same company, like an apple orchard owner who makes hard cider. In this scenario, loggers are more akin to those picking apples. But harvesting timber takes substantial financial resources; skidders and trucks are far from free.
That is why the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine testified neither for nor against Jackson’s proposal. This is an incredibly complex policy area without simple solutions. And while Augusta deliberates over the best approach to solve whatever problems they believe exist, the economy needs to go on. No blackball. No boycotts.
There will be plenty of other issues and debates where people have strong feelings. Some will deal with economics, like how people make a living. Some will deal with philosophical questions, defining moral rights and wrongs. We need the latitude to disagree with each other in good faith, because there will always be those cases where even rivals will find themselves agreeing with each other.
Besides, with a nearly $8 billion biennial budget proposal pending in Augusta, we can’t afford to blackball or boycott each other. The state treasury needs all the tax revenue it can get.