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Log haulers stand firm

| June 15, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

Northwest Montana log truck drivers have taken their protest against Plum Creek Timber Co. into the second week to publicize what they say is inadequate payment for hauling logs.

Jim Weinman of Libby, who owns eight trucks, said drivers who have parked their trucks on the Flathead County Fairgrounds since June 7 originally planned to return home Monday evening. But after talking among themselves, the drivers decided to tighten their belts and stay put.

"We didn't like their attitude so we said 'The hell with it, we're staying here,'" Weinman said Monday afternoon. "We're holding our own. We're planning to stay here until they decide to pay us."

Forty-three log trucks were parked on the fairgrounds, he said, emphasizing that the demonstration has been peaceful. Drivers hope the shutdown will force Plum Creek to increase payments to haulers.

Weinman said drivers want Plum Creek to pay a fuel surcharge based on rising diesel costs. The company's response — issued through loggint contractors — was "no way," he said.

Log truck drivers are stymied because they can't talk directly to Plum Creek officials. Drivers are employed by loggers who hold contracts with Plum Creek, although payments are stipulated by the timber company.

"It's been that way the last 16 years," Weinman said. "Plum Creek puts out the amount of money, and each contract has the price for logging and logs getting moved.

"I don't know why they won't talk to us. They have some reason they don't want to do that. This is not a contractors problem. Plum Creek pays the bill."

Meanwhile, Plum Creek officials have said the compensation truckers receive is fair, and the company will not change contracts currently in place.

Weinman acknowledged a few drivers have chosen to leave the protest and start hauling. That's because contractors are getting pressure from Plum Creek, he said.

"Plum Creek is threatening contractors that if they don't start hauling logs they'll lose contracts," Weinman said.

"Some contractors are taking money out of their own pockets to get their trucker back. Anybody who went back to work, we don't hold that against them."

The loggers Weinman works with have contracts for the next three months. After those expire, he said, truckers will demand more money in subsequent contracts.

Weinman praised his own drivers for offering to take a pay cut to help him meet his fuel bill.

"They like what they do, and they want to stay here," he said.

Despite the difficulties, the veteran log hauler is confident that good drivers will be able to find work.

"It's always been the code of the West," Weinman said. "As long as I do good work, they'll call me back."