Franklin Division loggers who have been unemployed for more than four months, amidst a rate dispute between Western Forest Products and their woodlands contractor Island Pacific Logging, just want to get back to work.
Loggers with the Franklin River crew haven’t worked since Dec. 22, 2015, and the extended period of unemployment is starting to tax their families, crew members say.
“We came to this year expecting to go to work like normal,” said Jim Falconer, a Franklin crew member. “We come back to work and we are absolutely blindsided by a layoff that we have no control over.”
The United Steelworkers Local 1-85 launched legal proceedings against WFP to fight for the Franklin crew, 1-85 president Norm MacLeod said.
Western has not considered retroactive pay while negotiations are ongoing, he added, and that could be helping the crew members by keeping them on the job.
“Almost every other contract on the coast says you get retroactivity,” MacLeod said.
“They all have that you get retroactivity because that way the employees get to work and the mills get the wood.”
MacLeod acknowledged that crew members are receiving Employment Insurance while the dispute is in mediation.
MacLeod said WFP in March issued a list of concessions, to the already signed and agreed to Collective Agreement of 2014, to Island Pacific Logging and only if the crew would accept these concessions would they then be able to return to work.
“A hundred and some odd guys are out of work for four months and really getting frustrated. They’re guys that love to work and that’s where they’d rather be than sitting at home,” MacLeod said.
Members of the Franklin crew are also feeling frustrated that the end to the rate dispute seems so uncertain.
“We feel like we’re in a hostage situation,” Falconer said.
Negotiations are currently before arbitrator Vince Ready and mediations are taking place on May 3.
“I take my hat off to this crew for not losing it,” fellow Franklin River member Pete Glaser said. “I’m hanging out with people who are in terrible shape financially.”
Amy Spencer, Western Forest Products’ director of communications and government relations, said the company couldn’t comment on specifics until the contract is resolved because negotiations are still underway.
Spencer did clear up one misconception regarding a rumoured closure for Alberni Pacific Division in May.
“I can tell you that the APD is not shutting down,” she said.
Members of the Franklin Division crew believe that what’s best for both the crew and the community is for the employees who have been off since December to go back to work and negotiate.
“There are a lot of people at home with no hope,” said Steve Drybrough, who also works at Franklin River.
Drybrough said the future is unclear for the crew; they could be back at work anywhere from tomorrow to two years down the road.