The decision made Friday ended a three-week work stoppage against Irving Woodlands.

FORT KENT (AP) – Loggers and truckers in northern Maine have agreed to end a three-week work stoppage against Irving Woodlands without conditions, but it was unclear if they will get work when they return Monday.

The decision Friday followed nearly four hours of discussion.

The workers had voted earlier in the week to halt the job action if Irving allowed everyone to return to work and Gov. John Baldacci pledged not to veto legislation to allow logging and trucking contractors to bargain collectively with landowners.

Baldacci, who opposes the legislation, refused to provide such assurances and Irving made no commitment regarding work on its lands.

The workers also agreed to continue the International Loggers Association, which they formed last month. The organization will assist loggers and truckers, and serve as a vehicle to lobby state lawmakers for legislation to help woods workers.

“You are not failures,” Dean Plourde, spokesman for the ILA, told them. “You have garnered a lot of support out there, and more will come.”

The group agreed to be on hand when the Legislature debates and votes on the bill to allow logging contractors to form an association to negotiate rates with landowners.

Irving Woodlands said it will seek to get its operations back to normal as quickly as possible, but made no commitments regarding who would have jobs.

“We will put the pieces together, and keep our contractors as busy as we can. “Our business is changing, and we are looking at that,” said Chuck Gadzik, the company’s Maine operations manager. “We have a lot of inventory in the woods, and we are prioritizing which mills that volume will be going to.”

The dispute began Jan. 5 when the workers walked off their jobs, seeking 25 percent to 30 percent increases in logging and trucking rates. Irving offered a 10 percent increase in logging rates, a 12 percent increase in off-highway trucking rates, and a 7 percent increase for highway trucking rates.

Rep. Troy Jackson, D-Fort Kent and a logger himself, said support for the loggers and truckers has been growing up and down the state.

“I don’t think it’s right that some of you may not be allowed to work because you participated in the work stoppage,” Jackson said. “This work stoppage and what has been happening to you at the hands of the company makes an easy case as to why this legislation is needed,” Jackson said. “You have to stay together and continue the work you have started.”

Many of the loggers and cutters have been cutting and hauling wood for other landowners since they have been off Irving lands.

AP-ES-01-24-04 1225EST



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