The United Steelworkers Local 1-85 has launched legal proceedings against Western Forest Products to fight for Franklin Division loggers who haven’t worked at all in 2016.

However, WFP claims the problem stems from a rate dispute with a contractor, and that they have been working to get employees back to work in their mills.

The Steelworkers filed a contracting out grievance which was supported by the courts, but has been appealed by Western Forest Products and is currently before arbitrator Vince Ready.

On Tuesday, March 15 United Steelworkers Local 1-85 president Norm MacLeod was issued a written proposal from Western Forest Products asking for concessions from the union. He declined to elaborate on what the concessions were.

“Franklin hasn’t worked a day this year and I’ve been negotiating with Western to put Franklin back to work…in the end they asked for a bunch of concessions to put the crew back to work, so now we’re looking at it like it’s a lockout,” MacLeod said.

MacLeod said the contracting out grievance was first filed at the end of 2013 and has still not been settled.

“In simple terms [WFP] laid the Franklin River crew off while contractors are working, so in essence gave their job to somebody else,” MacLeod said.

MacLeod said at least 100 Franklin Division loggers have been out of work this year.

A WFP spokesperson said that is not the case.

“We used unionized contractors so we’re not sure why they filed a grievance,” said Amy Spencer, director of communications and government relations at Western Forest Products.

Spencer said the appeal and concessions are still ongoing negotiations and therefore can’t be released to the public because of privacy concerns.

“What we can tell you is that we’ve been trying to find ways to get people back to work,” Spencer said.

“They’re not out of work because of the grievance, they’re out of work because we’re having a rate dispute with a contractor that they work for.”

The rate dispute is between WFP and their woodlands contractor Island Pacific Logging. Spencer said IPL the only contracting company that Western has had any dispute with and has happened every year for the past three years.

Spencer added no members have been out of work because the negotiations with WFP.

“They could be working for the logging contractor but that contractor is refusing to go to work because of the rate dispute,” she said.

Western Forest Products are not locking anybody out and Spencer said legally that can’t happen.

“There have been no members out of work because of the negotiation with us. They could be working for the logging contractor but that contractor is refusing to go to work because of the rate dispute,” Spencer said.

MacLeod said he estimates $7 million worth of rotting logs are laying on the ground on WFP’s Franklin Division hillsides that fallers have put there, adding that a fair percentage of that would go to Alberni Pacific Division Mill for processing.

Spencer at WFP said the there are no rotting logs on WFP Franklin Division hillside.

“There’s likely to be logs out there but not rotting and we don’t know to what amount but they will be hauled in once the dispute is resolved,” she said.

She said there are no labour issues at the mill related to the grievance and that the mill is a completely separate issue.

“Our big problem in Port Alberni is that we have a lack of long-term fibre supply so this is just a small blip in a situation where we don’t have enough logs in general in Port Alberni,” Spencer said.

“We import 70 per cent of the logs we need to keep our mills running so there’s a bigger issue there.”