Locked-Out Workers Continue to Stand Strong 

Unjust Lockout of Regina Co-op Refinery Workers Enters Sixth Month

Locked-out Co-op workers hold car rally outside Saskatchewan legislature, May, 7, 2020.

Unifor Local 594 members employed by Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) have been locked out since December 5, 2019. The 730 workers were locked out after they voted to reject the company's offer in negotiations and served 48-hour strike notice. The company had been preparing to take this action for months and had built a work camp for scabs that were immediately brought in from outside the province. Production has been continuing with scabs and managers, cut back mid-April due to decreased demand in the conditions of the pandemic.

From the outset the company has relied on the state and police in one attempt after another to diminish the effects of the union's picketing, starting with an injunction in December to limit pickets, constant harassment, and arrests of several workers on the picket lines. Throughout the bitter fight that the workers have waged to defend their right to negotiate acceptable wages and working conditions in the face of the ever-increasing demands of the company that they make concessions on pensions and other conditions that have been negotiated in the past, there has been support from workers in Unifor locals and many other unions from across the country. 

On March 5 the union filed two unfair labour practice applications with the Saskatchewan Labour Board, Unfair Labour Practice -- Industrial Espionage and Unfair Labour Practice -- Surface Bargaining. In the applications the union describes various company actions including following workers to their homes, withholding money owed to them and, with regard to bargaining, merely going through the motions ("surface bargaining") with no actual effort to negotiate a collective agreement. In the course of discussion with the union after the lockout the company has repeatedly brought back concessionary demands that had already been dropped in response to the union's dropping of their proposals. Neither case has yet been heard.

The union requested government intervention and the appointment of a mediator who could issue a report that would be binding and put an end to the dispute. In February mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers were appointed. Following 20 days of discussion with the company and the union, the mediators issued their non-binding report on March 19. Their proposed resolution included changes to the pension plan that would have resulted in millions of dollars being paid into the pension plan from workers' wages. Despite the fact that the mediators' report heavily favoured the company, the workers, within days, voted 98 per cent in favour of it as a means to end the lockout and get back to work. 

The company immediately rejected the report and demanded further concessions. Local 594 President Kevin Bittman reiterated the union's position that it was too late for that, that "[t]he mediators' report was the process that workers and the company agreed to, we ratified it, and it's what Scott Moe needs to enforce." The union has continued to demand that the Saskatchewan Moe government make the mediators' recommendations binding and force the company to end the lockout.

On April 28, Unifor Local 594 members voted 89 per cent against the "best and final offer" that the company has tried to impose since rejecting the mediators' report. A Unifor press release of April 29 quotes Local 594 President Kevin Bittman: "The premier hired the most experienced mediators in the country. The premier should take the next logical step and implement the mediators' recommendations." The workers are continuing to inform and mobilize.

On May 7 more than 300 vehicles rallied at the Saskatchewan legislative building in support of the locked-out workers, including members of local 594 and their families and supporters. The vehicles circled the legislature, honking horns and waving flags and banners and signs. The same day, prevented from meaningful picketing at the CCRL site in Regina, members of Local 594 set up a picket line at the Co-op Bulk Fuel site in Moose Jaw, a location that is not covered by the court order restricting picketing at the refinery. RCMP presence to harass was immediate and the following day, May 8, the RCMP threatened to lay charges of mischief if picketers obstructed people entering or leaving the site. 

Saskatchewan labour lawyer Ronni Nordal described the situation this way: "It appears that as of May 8, 2020 the CCRL (Consumers Co-operative Refinery Limited) can continue its operation with its replacement worker onsite camp while it has been declared illegal for Unifor Local 594 members to exercise any meaningful right to picket. The right to picket in Saskatchewan has been reduced to standing on the side of the road and waving to passersby, unless a driver voluntarily elects to stop and talk to the locked-out workers. The cycle is complete, the law protects the right of the employer to set up a work camp to house replacement workers during a pandemic while using its full force to ensure picketing has no effect on the employer's operations."[1]

The locked-out members of Unifor Local 594 are working full out to mobilize public opinion in support of their just demands, calling for a continuation of the boycott of Co-op, for messages of support to be sent to their facebook page and other actions.

No to Anti-Worker Concessions!
All Out to Support the FCL Regina Refinery Workers!

This article was published in

Number 35 - May 19, 2020

Article Link:
Locked-Out Workers Continue to Stand Strong : Unjust Lockout of Regina Co-op Refinery Workers Enters Sixth Month


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