Lockout at Co-op Refinery in Regina

Denounce the Criminalization of Co-op Refinery Workers

Co-op Refinery workers, members of Unifor  Local 594 rally at Saskatchewan legislature, January 30, 2020.

Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) locked out the workers at its refinery in Regina on December 5, two days after the workers voted to strike rather than accept the company's bargaining demand that the workers agree to a significant reduction in their pensions. The company had, in previous bargaining, committed to maintaining the defined benefits pension plan that had been agreed to in negotiations years ago.

The conditions for the company to continue operations in the event of a strike or lockout had been put in place weeks before the company's action, with the building of work camps to house replacement workers flown in to the refinery so as to render the workers' defence of their rights ineffectual.

Throughout the lockout FCL has received the full support of the state against the workers. The company was awarded an injunction requiring that picketers hold up trucks entering or leaving the refinery for no more than ten minutes. Late in January the Co-op workers were joined by hundreds of workers from other unions, as well as Unifor members from across the country, to mount an effective picket, erecting barricades and preventing movement into and out of the refinery. Several participants, including local and national officers of Unifor, were arrested in those mass actions.

Steelworkers join Co-op refinery workers on the picket line, February 1, 2020, one of many solidarity delegations received by the locked out workers.

Unifor workers and their supporters have also blocked movement into and out of the FCL fuel storage facility in Carseland, about 65 kilometres southeast of Calgary, erecting fences and restricting the access of vehicles into and out of the facility. This led to periodic fuel outages at Co-op gas bars and cardlocks in western Canada. The company has imposed fuel restrictions at its cardlocks of 300 litres of diesel and 100 litres of gasoline. Locked out workers are rightly blaming FCL dictate for stealing their negotiated defined benefits pension plan and the Saskatchewan government's refusal to force FCL to negotiate in good faith for the gas shortages. They uphold their right to wage an effective struggle that actually blocks the company's attempt to wreck their negotiated pensions and benefits by refusing to negotiate, flying scabs into the refinery at great risk to the safety of the community and relying on the prerogative powers of the state to crush the workers and their unions. 

On February 6, Justice Glenda Campbell in Calgary granted the company's application for an injunction restricting picketing at the Carseland facility and requiring that workers remove barricades, and the following day amended the injunction to allow police to remove the barricades if the workers did not do so themselves. In Regina, on February 7 police blocked access on Ninth Avenue North between McDonald and Winnipeg streets to all picketers while escorting Co-op trucks through to the refinery, checking off drivers' names from a list supplied by FCL. Police then took the additional step of removing the workers' warming and bathroom facilities from the sites.

Police escorting Co-op trucks through workers' picket lines, February 7, 2020.

A decision by Justice Neil Robertson is pending in response to the company's demand that the local union be fined a million dollars plus $100,000 per day as long as the injunction is not "obeyed" and that Local 594 President Kevin Bittman and Vice-President Lance Holowachuk be jailed for 90 days and 30 days respectively if they do not comply with the court order to remove the barricades that were erected on January 20.

On February 6, National union leader Jerry Dias called on Premier Scott Moe and FCL to bring an immediate end to the dispute by granting an independent provincially-appointed mediator the power to arbitrate if the parties are unable to come to an agreement after seven days of bargaining. The union's position was that if the employer immediately removed replacement workers from the refinery and agreed to negotiate, the picket lines would be taken down and the workers would return to work as early as Monday, February 10. Once again the company refused to return to negotiations. FCL is still refusing to do so, claiming that until the barricade is removed it will not negotiate, and refusing to remove the scabs.

Secondary picket at Co-op facility in Dryden Ontario supporting Regina Co-op refinery workers, February 4, 2020.

(Photos: Unifor 594)

This article was published in

Number 5 - February 12, 2020

Article Link:
Lockout at Co-op Refinery in Regina: Denounce the Criminalization of Co-op Refinery Workers


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