Peter and Vincent “Vinny” Wood are the father and son team behind Wood Forest Products, a logging company headquartered in Northern Minnesota. In 2017 Wood Forest Products became Local 49’s first signatory logging company.
Local 49 petitioned the International Union of Operating Engineers for a separate charter, now known as Local 49 L, to be able to sign Wood Forest Products as a signatory contractor. This enables members to retain their benefits if they work for a signed logging contractor.
Peter Wood is a third-generation logger. His grandfather homesteaded in Canyon in 1917 and logged in the winter and farmed in the summer. His dad taught him and his brother John, who also owns his own logging operation and works with his sons, how to work in the woods at an early age. The Wood family still lives on the original homestead.
“It’s not a job, it’s a way of life. I was born into this and I’ve been working out here since I was six years old.”
Similar to the construction industry, those of us in the timber industry know that logging is not for the faint of heart.
“Either you love this or you don’t. The industry is constantly changing, and you work long hours,” Peter said. “At the same time, you get to work in the woods, where beauty and nature is all around. The job you do maintains the health and beauty of the forest for future generations to enjoy. When you harvest a forest you still have a forest again.”
From the Forest to the Mills
“Our product is in a lot more every day items than most people realize,” Peter said. “It’s not just paper products, it’s used in certain auto parts, home products and even makeup. It is used in so many items. That is why I call it the Hidden Industry.”
The right to harvest timber comes from either private or public landowners. A harvest plan is determined and a contract is agreed upon before any work begins and just like constructions jobs, there are regulations and deadlines to comply with.
The trees are first removed with a piece of equipment called a Feller Buncher, which nearly simultaneously cuts and removes the tree. Located on the Feller Buncher is a large circular blade that cuts the tree, and claw-like handles that grab onto the tree to pick it up and place it into piles to be pulled to the landing.
Operating the Feller Buncher is Vinny’s job on the site.
“It’s a complicated piece of equipment because both your hands are operating joy sticks while your thumbs and pointer fingers are pushing buttons that control the functions of the cutting head and arms while your feet are moving both tracks. This is all happening simultaneously.” Vinny said.
“It’s a lot to do mentally because you’re moving your hands and feet operating the different movements all at the exact same time,” Peter added. “But if you can handle it, it’s actually one of the better jobs on the site, because you are kind of off by yourself enjoying the scenery.”
The trees are pulled to the landing with a skidder where they are
sorted, cut, and loaded onto trailers for delivery to mills. The waste from limbs and branches is chipped and hauled for biomass for electricity.
Joining Local 49
Peter was first interested in joining Local 49 four years ago after learning about the benefits available to Local 49 members and their families through meetings with the Local 49 area business agents and the Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers (ACLT) of Minnesota.
“The benefits of everyone chipping in and we’re all in this boat together, so to speak,” Peter said. “As the older generation retires, the new generation comes in and we all help each other out in that way.”
The Operating Engineers Local 49 Health Plan was a factor to joining Local 49.
“We’re used to having a $13,000 deductible and paying a $2,000 per month premium,” he added. “This is what really drove me to seriously consider Local 49 and explore what they offer. Their health insurance is tremendous.”
Peter said he hopes other logging companies will look into the benefits that the Local 49 offers and see if it will work for their business.
Challenges in the Timber Industry
Scott Dane, the Executive Director of the ACLT, said that logging companies face the challenge of offering competitive wages and benefits to attract and retain employees.
“If we can offer employees competitive wages, health insurance and a retirement package then we can not only start to attract new people in the industry, but also retain them,” Dane said.
For years the construction and logging community have shared operators who worked construction in the summer and logging in the winter.
During the winter months, Dane said that many heavy equipment operators will work for logging companies while they’re laid off, and he hopes that as more logging companies join Local 49 that gap can be bridged.
“As people get laid off and come out to the forest to work they could actually maintain their benefits while they’re working all year long, and I think that could be a great partnership,” Dane said.
Looking to the Future
While Peter said he doesn’t plan on retiring anytime soon, he still is preparing his son Vinny to take over the family business some day and carry on the legacy.
Just like his dad, Vinny has grown up working out in the forest since he was a child and now at the age of 20 he is learning what it takes to run the family business.
“Vinny had the option of going to college or coming out here and he wanted to be out here,” Peter said. “He started bunching [operating Feller Buncher] for me about a year ago and it’s been working out very well.”
Vinny graduated at the top of his class in 2017, completed post secondary classes while in high school and originally thought about being an engineer but decided his heart was really to work in the woods.
Read more stories like Peter and Vinny’s at www.local49.org.