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Company seeks injunction: Co op, union in court over pickets at Regina refinery

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 11.08.12 AMA labour dispute between a Saskatchewan petroleum refinery and hundreds of its workers moved from the picket line into the courtroom December 23rd, with the company seeking an injunction against some of the union’s activities.

Eileen Libby, a lawyer for the Federated Co-operatives Limited, told court that picketers with Unifor Local 594 have been blocking access to the co-op refinery complex in Regina and intimidating replacement workers, contractors and suppliers.

Libby said there’s been a lack of action from city police, and the court is the only place the company could turn to stop the union from engaging in what she called illegal conduct.

“The union does not have a right, no matter what it says in arguments, to block the employer’s access to its own premises,” she argued. “The employer is entitled to use replacement workers.”

Union lawyer Crystal Norbeck questioned the allegations of unlawful conduct and argued there should be no restrictions on members blocking or preventing replacement workers from entering the site.

“If the company can simply hire replacement workers at will and those workers have free access to the work site, there’s no economic pressure, at all,” she told the court.

“The right to picket is meaningless.”

More than 700 refinery workers have been locked out since the start of the month, after Unifor issued a strike notice. Pensions are a key issue in the contract dispute.

Last week, Justice Janet McMurtry put some restrictions on the union’s picketing until a full injunction hearing could be held. The judge reserved her decision Monday.

Unifor is calling for a national boycott of the facility’s owner, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., made up of more than 190 independent retail co-operatives in Western Canada, operating food stores, gas bars, convenience stores and home centres.

The workers’ last contract expired in February. The union declared an impasse in contract negotiations in September, which led to the appointment of a mediator.

Union blockades have impeded the delivery of safety equipment and chemicals to the refinery and have raised concerns about the ability of emergency vehicles to get through, Libby told court.

As a result of the union blockades, the co-op brought in helicopters to transport goods and staff across picket lines.

“Think about that for a moment: What a significant act that is,” Libby said.

“It’s expensive. It’s strange, but it was necessary.”

The union, however, said emergency vehicles have not been prevented from accessing the property.

Union lawyer Rick Engel said the company is wealthy enough to fly in replacement workers, and those on the picket lines have a right to obstruct access as a point of protest.

He said the union can engage in picketing that results in blocking or a slowing down the entrance of people into a site.

“They think they’ve got a law-given right to carry on business without interruption – that’s what they think,” he said of the company.

He also told the court that police have been doing their jobs by keeping the peace and not taking sides in the dispute.

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Strike enters new phase at FCL Regina refinery

Workers have been locked out of Federated Co-op’s Regina refinery since December 5, 2019, when negotiations went off the rails. Now, the union representing 800 inside workers is launching a boycott of Co-op products to pressure the organization to consider worker pension demands.
Federated Cooperatives Limited (FCL) is offering an 11.75% wage increase (over four years), a performance bonus plan and pension choice. Unifor 594 suggests FCL has lost its cooperative values and is profiting on the backs of employees who are bargaining to keep their savings plan and employer inputs to the pension. Currently, workers do not pay into pensions with FCL covering the full cost that amounted to $72 million in 2019. Federated states they need to get a handle on these retirement costs as it moves into a low carbon economy.
“The union is willing to make changes to pension liabilities but will not budge on pension security for every worker,” says Scott Doherty, lead Unifor negotiator and executive assistant to national president Jerry Dias. “At this time when Co-op is raking in billions in profit, anything less is an unnecessary concession.”
FCL counters by saying, “We encourage Unifor to return to the table and bargain, something they haven’t done since September 26, 2019.  In fact, Unifor has yet to even offer a counter-proposal during the negotiation process.”
Mediation was set in place, but talks broke down in November when the union was displeased FCL was building a camp for temporary workers as a way to keep the facility running. Workers were locked out of the plant on December 5, 2019, and FCL started to bring in necessary staff by helicopter December 8.
Federated Cooperatives’ plant is Western Canada’s third-largest refinery. The facility can process 135,000 barrels of oil per day and produces gasoline, propane and asphalt, as well as other items.

Tentative deal could end Saskatoon Co-op strike

UnknownA ratification vote will be held this week on a tentative agreement to end a strike by hundreds of unionized Saskatoon Co-op workers that’s dragged on for more than five months.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1,400 says the deal covering about 900 employees was reached early Sunday morning.

It followed two days of mediated talks between the union and Saskatoon Co-operative on Friday and Saturday.

Union spokesman Rod Gillies says details won’t be made public until after the ballots are cast.

The tentative agreement also covers workers in Martensville, Warman, Colonsay and Watrous who are employed in retail food, gas bar, convenience store, agro centre, home centre and car wash operations.

The workers set up pickets Nov. 1 after rejecting a company offer that included lower wages for new employees.

Both sides had accused each other of not being flexible at the bargaining table and the union had asked for binding arbitration.

The employees have been without a contract for more than two years.

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