As the labour dispute between Western Forest Products and the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 approaches the two-month mark, the sides are at odds over health benefits.

On September 1, Western Forest Products is set to stop paying health benefits for striking workers and USW Local 1-1937 President Brian Butler said the health benefits program, overseen by a board of trustees, includes members of the union and the industry.

The USW Local 1-1937 President disputes the idea that the company can just cut employee benefits without consultation.

Butler added that Western needs to pay health benefits or face litigation.

“It’s not that far from September and we want to be clear that the benefits need to be in place and if Western doesn’t pay the benefits plan, the health and welfare plan, we should be going after Western Forest Products to have them pay,” said Butler.

However, VP of Corporate Affairs with Western Forest Products Susan Dolinsky said the company covered the health benefits of workers for as long as it could.

“They have not made a commitment to reimburse Western or pay the premiums going forward and we delayed this for as long as possible to allow time for the union to continue their members’ benefits,” said Dolinsky. “At the same time, we recognized that we needed to give employees notice that there is the potential for disruption.”

Butler said the company can’t just cut employee health benefits without any consultation, but a memo to the employees earlier in the week indicated that the company would not cover these health benefits any longer (as of September 1).

The health benefits program is overseen by a board of trustees, including members of the union and industry and Butler said the union trustees never authorized the memo.

“The union trustees have asked for an immediate meeting of the trustees because the memo that went out wasn’t authorized by the union trustees,” said Butler.

However, Dolinsky said both sides received the same letter following clarification.

“Western did seek clarification from the trustees of the benefits plan, which the USW has a seat as part of that group,” said Dolinsky. “We did seek clarification from the trustee group and both parties received a letter outlining what the options are.”

Dolinsky said, “Western has made its decisions in accordance with that clarification that we received.”