FRA’s 2018 Policy Priorities

The U.S. wood supply system is the largest and most highly developed in the world, providing the raw material that furnishes our country’s seventh largest industrial sector:  forest products.  Overregulation threatens this system’s ability to continue to serve both its economic and environmental goals in a sustainable manner, especially in view of the large role small business plays in this system’s function and management.  FRA monitors and engages public policy processes that impose unreasonable costs and overly burdensome processes on the wood supply chain or that impede sensible reforms that might enhance competitiveness.

Paralysis by overregulation places in jeopardy the livelihoods of mills, employees, and dependent communities; harvesting and forest operations contractors and their employees; and the ten million private, institutional, and industrial forest landowners that support its resource base.  In the end, a dysfunctional wood supply system would not only be economically devastating but would expose the forest resource to wildfire and disease, leaving watersheds and wildlife habitat vulnerable and compromising the character of our country’s landscape.

What is overregulation?  The intrusion of government into the management of private business to an extent not justified by the duty to promote the general welfare or to achieve transparency in exercising that duty.

Overregulated: Permitting Younger Logging, Trucking Personnel

Impact: The Fair Labor Standards Act’s prohibition on loggers employing their own children on family-run logging operations until the child reaches the age of 18 is discouraging the intergenerational transfer of logging businesses, since it prevents effective apprenticeships at a critical age. It is important to sustain existing businesses by facilitating the next generation’s entry into the profession as experienced operators and business managers. In addition, federal rules discourage employment of younger truck drivers, prohibiting drivers under 21 from driving trucks over state lines.

FRA members have identified loss of logging capacity, as the U.S. economy transforms, as a near-term and long-term threat to wood supply chain viability and have placed a high priority on conserving it, with conserving and promoting wood supply entrepreneurs being a key priority.

Status: The five-year Highway Bill (“FAST Act”) signed into law on December 4, 2015, contains terms (Section 5404) establishing a “working group” to consult with the Secretary of Transportation to “conduct, monitor, and evaluate” a pilot program to determine the “feasibility, benefits, and safety impacts” of allowing truck drivers as young as 18 to operate in interstate commerce. The legislation confines participants (“covered drivers”) in the program to members or former members of the armed forces or reserves qualified to operate “a commercial motor vehicle or similar vehicle.”

The FAST Act does not specify the length of the pilot program and does not limit it to a specified number of states. Neither does it mandate any change in current DOT policy based on the report of the pilot program. It does lay forth some markers it expects that report to cover.

On March 3, 2015, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) re-introduced his Future Logging Careers Act in the House (HR 1215), which had gathered 20 co-sponsors as of April 7, 2016; and on March 10, 2015 Sen. James Risch introduced identical legislation (S 694), with 3 co-sponsors. The legislation would:

  • exempt loggers’ family members as young as age 16 from FLSA’s  prohibition of minors working in logging, provided
  • they work under direct supervision of a parent; and
  • they do not work in chain saw operation or cable skidding.

The American Loggers Council and FRA have both endorsed the legislation, as well as legislation introduced by Rep. Bruce Poliquin with similar provisions, and encourage members to urge additional legislators to co-sponsor it.

The Issue: The Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits the employment of minors (under the age of 18) in occupations, such as logging, classified as hazardous. FRA judges the proposed reform as reasonable in that it restricts minor children’s exposures significantly to work within enclosed cabs; and the requirement that such minor children work under the direct supervision of a parent clearly indicates the intention of the proposed policy to provide an apprenticeship opportunity for business transfer, not simply to stretch the existing employment pool.

The concern is that young people who are denied the opportunity to test their skills and interest in forest work at an age when they are making essential career decisions may miss that opportunity at just the time when their interest could be most significantly engaged. ALC points out that logging families, working under current restrictions, are unable to avail themselves of the kind of “apprenticeship” opportunities available to farm families.

Similar concerns surround young people considering truck driving as a profession. Current rules discourage young people from considering a truck-driving career track. Although technically truck drivers may begin as young as 18, they may not drive a truck across state lines until they reach the age of 21, by which age they will likely have followed a different career track.