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Red River Co-op pumps go dry

Out of gas (1)Federated Co-operatives’ Regina refinery labour dispute is making itself felt well beyond Saskatchewan. Late last week members of Unifor, the union behind the more than 700 workers currently locked out of the Regina refining centre, staged a picket at Winnipeg’s Esso and Shell terminals where local Red River Co-op drivers pick up fuel to restock the group’s 35 gas bar and card lock sites in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Red River Co-op is a business independent of FCL that is owned by its more than 180,000 members and it looks to Federated for wholesale  products.

The picket was successful and by Friday Feb. 7, locations were reporting no gas and limited diesel stocks in at some of the 23 locations in the Winnipeg area. The move by Unifor is a pressure tactic designed to get Federated Cooperatives Ltd. (FCL) back to the bargaining table. At issue is the company’s plan to change how pensions are funded.

The dispute is also causing considerable collateral damage to low wage workers and transport operations. For example, the labour action in Winnipeg has caused locations to send workers such as gas bar attendants home after fuel dispensers were closed.

In Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, FCL  has had to impose limits on its cardlock customers. On February 5, Federated asked transport companies to limit their fills to 100 litres of gasoline and 300 litres of diesel at sites in the three provinces. With most transport drivers using between 600 litres and 800 litres per day for deliveries, the fuel limit is a major inconvenience that is negatively impacting trucking businesses.

By Monday Feb. 10, Red River’s gas bar sites reported deliveries were beginning to reappear in the Manitoba capital as the picket wound down at the eastern Winnipeg fuel terminal.

Unifor reports that disruptions will continue as it ramps pressure on FCL operations and customers. Currently, Unifor is calling for a boycott of all Co-op retailers and businesses. The strike and lockout are now in their second month.

Contact OCTANE editor Kelly Gray at kgray@ensembleiq.com


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Sides in Regina refinery labour dispute lay down conditions for talks to resume

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 3.27.01 PMThe owner of a Saskatchewan oil refinery where workers are locked out in a contract dispute says there has been a discussion with Unifor about returning to bargaining, but the union wants the premier to step in.

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. says it won’t bargain as long as union members continue to block access to the Regina plant.

“We respect Unifor’s right to picket and peacefully protest but they need to adhere to the court’s order,” a company spokesman said Thursday in a statement.

Unifor President Jerry Dias said the company is moving the goalposts as to what conditions need to be met to resume bargaining. He said the union has already done its part.

“My guess is if we were to take down the barricades and everybody went home … they would have another condition the next morning,” Dias, flanked by members of Unifor’s bargaining committee, said at a news conference.

“We are prepared for a major de-escalation of this fight on the condition that they remove the scabs from the workplace.”

Unifor called on Premier Scott Moe to demand that both sides go to the bargaining table and work with a provincial mediator.

“A provincially appointed mediator is already in place, and has been engaging with both parties regularly throughout the lockout period,” Labour Minister Don Morgan responded in a statement.

“We continue to encourage both parties to return to the bargaining table where the provincially appointed mediator can assist parties in negotiating an agreement.”

Dias said Unifor’s lawyers are looking at a judge’s decision to fine the union $100,000 for violating an injunction that limits how long pickets can hold up traffic going in and out of the refinery.

He also said he is to meet with Regina police Chief Evan Bray following mischief charges earlier this week against 14 union members, including himself.

Dias said he hopes Bray will contact the refinery, request a cooling-off period and urge the company to get back to the table.

Bray has said blocking access to a business is illegal and police are deciding whether to lay further charges.

The company locked out more than 700 workers in early December after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. The main issue is pension plan changes the company wants to make.

 


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Union fined for violating court order in Regina refinery labour dispute

A judge has fined a union that represents more than 700 workers at a Saskatchewan oil refinery $100,000 for violating a court order that set limits on picketing during an ongoing contract dispute.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Timothy Keene found Unifor intentionally and deliberately disobeyed an interim injunction limiting the time members can hold up traffic going in and out of the Co-op refinery in Regina.

Unifor, which represents 300,000 private-sector workers across Canada, announced Monday that it planned to stop replacement workers from entering the refinery and fuel trucks from leaving in an attempt to shut down the plant and force talks to resume.

In his decision, Keene wrote that deterrence is required to convey the need for Unifor to follow court orders.

“Particularly those intended to bring some level of stability to a tense labour dispute,” he wrote in a judgment released Wednesday.

Police in Regina have charged 14 Unifor members over the blockade and are still deciding whether additional charges should be laid.

“In light of this ruling, we ask that Unifor comply with the injunction order currently in place and remove the blockade,” refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. said in a news release.

In a video posted to the Regina police Facebook page later Wednesday, Chief Evan Bray said that officers have a plan on how to deal with the situation and have reached out to Unifor.

Bray reiterated that blocking access to the refinery is illegal. He said allegations that the police’s SWAT team was at the refinery and had used tear gas were not true.

Unifor secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said members would continue to hold the picket line, which had grown to include layers of fencing and parked rental vehicles with deflated tires.

The company locked out workers in early December after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. The main issue is pension plan changes the company wants to make.

Paul Woit, who has worked at the refinery for almost 20 years, is three years away from retirement. He said what the company is proposing would cause him to lose half his pension.

“Thirty-thousand (dollars) a year,” he said Wednesday. “I can’t afford this. There’s no way I can make it up.”

Federated Co-operatives has said workers don’t pay into their pension, which costs the company upwards of $100 million a year and is unsustainable in the long term. It says it’s offering a choice between staying in their defined benefit plan _ but having to contribute to it _ or moving to a defined contribution plan.

Wednesday’s court ruling came as labour leaders from across Canada joined a rally in support of the refinery workers.

“This fight is about all of us,” Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told a crowd gathered on the picket line.

Supporters hoisted flags representing different unions that have been uniting behind the workers, including nurses unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union.

Some labour leaders, including Yussuff, called on Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government to get both parties back to the table.

NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili, who attended the rally, said the government should facilitate a meeting between both sides.

 


Former Alaska refinery owner ordered to pay for solvent leak

The former owner of an Alaska crude oil refinery has been ordered to pay millions in damages for releasing large amounts of a refinery solvent, sulfolane, into groundwater and polluting hundreds of residents’ drinking water wells.

Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Warren Matthews in Fairbanks ordered Williams Alaska Petroleum, former owner of the North Pole Refinery, to pay $29.4 million for costs and damages.

He also ordered Williams Alaska to pay future response costs and partially reimburse the company that bought the refinery, Flint Hills Resources LLC.

Flint Hills has spent more than $130 million to provide clean water to affected residents, Fairbanks television station KTVF reported, and reimbursement could add tens of millions to the judgement.

Matthews allocated 75% of the spill liability to Williams and 25% to Flint Hills in the trial to decide THE allocation of responsibility.

Alaska Deputy Attorney General Treg Taylor said Williams had not been co-operative throughout the process of attempting to assign responsibility and restore clean water to residents.

“Despite being responsible for most of the pollution, Williams chose not to work with the State of Alaska in coming up with a solution and instead chose litigation,” Taylor said in prepared statement. “We’re pleased that the court affirmed the basic principle that under Alaska law the polluter pays.”

David Shoup of Anchorage, an attorney for Williams Alaska, was travelling Friday afternoon and could not immediately respond to a request for comment, his office said.

The refinery was built in 1977 in North Pole, a city of 2,100 about 14 miles (22.5 kilometres) south of Fairbanks. The refinery tapped crude from the trans-Alaska pipeline and refined it into jet fuel, heating fuel and other products.

Williams in 2004 sold the refinery to Flint Hills Resources. Five years later, sulfolane was found in nearby water wells. Flint Hills closed the refinery a few years later.

The two companies and the state engaged in litigation surrounding the sulfolane plume for nearly a decade.

The trial opened in October. An attorney for Flint Hills, Jan Conlin, said sulfolane was not disclosed in the sale and Williams had not contributed to cleanup efforts during years of litigation.

Shoup during the trial said sulfolane was not considered a hazardous chemical by the state and was not a regulated chemical at the time of the spill. He said neither Williams Petroleum nor Flint Hills Resources was under obligation to clean the spill because the state had not set a cleanup standard.


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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.

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Parkland Fuel plans refinery maintenance

The refinery that is the sole local supplier of motor fuel in the B.C. Lower Mainland is being scheduled for an eight-week maintenance shutdown early next year but owner Parkland Fuel Corp. says it is taking measures to keep prices at the pump in check.

The 55,000-barrel-per-day Burnaby refinery is putting fuel in storage to be drawn upon during the outage but that won’t be enough to last for the entire duration, said Dirk Lever, vice-president for refining, on a conference call to discuss Parkland’s third-quarter results last week.

“We have a fair amount of planning to do dealing with other refineries in order to source supply as we’re down,” he said.

“More material to pump prices on the West Coast are unplanned outages, rather than planned outages. So the fact this is a planned outage and has been orchestrated ahead of time, it should not have a material impact at the pump.”

Gasoline and diesel prices have been a hot topic in British Columbia.

A public inquiry concluded in August that there’s an unexplained difference of 13 cents per litre between Metro Vancouver and Seattle that is costing drivers on the Canadian side of the border nearly $500 million a year.

But it also found no evidence of collusion among the companies – including Parkland – that supply and market fuel.

Premier John Horgan called the public inquiry last May as gasoline prices reached a record-breaking $1.70 per litre in the Vancouver region.

Parkland’s down time shouldn’t result in higher prices because there has been sufficient preparation time, said market watcher Michael Ervin, senior vice-president with consulting firm Kent Group, on Tuesday.

He said prices are generally higher in the Vancouver area because of supply and demand.

B.C.’s other fuel refinery, the 12,000-bpd facility in Prince George, was recently sold by Husky Energy Inc. to Tidewater Midstream and Infrastructure Ltd.

Shares in Calgary-based Parkland, Canada’s largest independent fuel marketer, jumped by nearly five per cent early Tuesday after it increased its 2019 guidance on the back of third-quarter adjusted earnings that beat analyst expectations.

“Our business is performing well and the increase reflects our strong third quarter and confidence for Q4,” said CEO Bob Espey on the conference call.

The company, which sells gasoline and diesel under brands including Fas Gas, Chevron, Esso, Ultramar and Pioneer, and operates On The Run convenience stores in Canada, said it now expects its adjusted earnings in 2019 before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization will be $1.24 billion, up $75 million from the previous forecast.

During the quarter, Parkland began the rollout of its national Journie Rewards customer loyalty program in partnership with CIBC in Canada and bought Florida-based fuel marketer Tropic Oil.

The company reported third-quarter net earnings of $26 million, down from $49 million in the year-earlier period, with the slip mainly attributed to an increase in interest on long-term debt relating to its purchase early this year of Caribbean fuel retailer Sol.

It reported adjusted EBITDA of $302 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, up from $200 million in the same period of 2018, as revenue jumped to $4.6 billion from $3.8 billion.


Trudeau says Ottawa open to proposals for B.C. refinery as gas prices soar

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Ottawa is open to proposals from the private sector for a refinery in British Columbia, as a public inquiry into the province’s soaring gas prices reviews possible solutions.

The prime minister says he knows B.C. residents are struggling and the federal government is open to ideas that would make life more affordable for Canadians.

“We’re always open to seeing what the private sector proposes, what business cases are out there. We believe in getting things done the right way and we’re going to work with people to find solutions to make sure that people can afford their weekly bills,” Trudeau said.

He made the comments in Victoria this month following a joint announcement with Premier John Horgan of $79 million to support 118 new transit buses across the province.

The funding will also allow for 10 long-range electric buses that would provide greener transportation options in Greater Victoria.

Horgan called the gas price inquiry in May when prices at the pump reached $1.70 on the Lower Mainland, saying the public deserved answers about why prices are so much more expensive and variable than in other jurisdictions.

Horgan said that while the province wants a transition away from fossil fuel dependence, that transition should be aided by more refined product to give B.C. drivers relief.

The province believes that, like raw logs, there’s an economic opportunity lost when oil and gas goes to market before value is added, even as the province moves toward cleaner energies, he said.

Oral hearings are ongoing in the public inquiry into gas prices and the three-member panel chaired by the David Morton, CEO of the B.C. Utilities Commission, is set to release a final report and recommendations Aug. 30.

Henry Kahwaty, an economist hired by Parkland Fuels, which owns and operates one of the province’s only refineries in Burnaby, told the panel on Wednesday that there have been several business cases circulating for additional refineries in the province.

But Kahwaty said the business cases put forward aren’t based on meeting local demand, even if some of the product would undoubtedly end up in B.C.

“It’s serving Asian markets,” Kahwaty said.

Dozens of protesters rallied outside a Liberal fundraiser Thursday night, carrying signs saying “declare a climate health emergency,” and “get oil out of our soil.”

Some held up giant, inflatable orcas mounted on sticks, a reference to the endangered species threatened by the increased tanker traffic that would come with the pipeline’s expansion.

They called for a stronger federal climate action plan and criticized Trudeau for his government’s approval and purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Trudeau told reporters that selling Canadian oil to American markets at a discount won’t help the environment but redirecting some of the profits from the expansion will.

During the fundraiser’s “armchair discussion,” Trudeau said we’re in a time where populism and social media are amplifying voices on the peripheries and the Liberal party is committed to the “hard work,” of finding what can be complicated solutions.

“Nobody has a sign that says ‘Make a decent compromise,’ ‘Find a reasonable way forward,’ ‘Get that right balance.’ ”

Although, he said he was flattered to hear the same orcas were at Elizabeth May’s wedding in April.

 


An Alberta refinery could help with squeezed gas supply in B.C.: Premier Horgan

British Columbia Premier John Horgan says Alberta may be the best place to boost refining capacity to increase a supply of fuel to the province.

The price of gasoline has been rising in B.C. for the last month and the cost for a litre of gas in Metro Vancouver has been hovering around $1.70.

Horgan says part of the problem is there’s too much demand and not enough supply, but adds that a 30-cent rise in gas prices in the last three months appears to be a result of gouging by oil companies.

The premier says most refineries are close to the source of the product and because Alberta has more expertise, that may be the better location for new refining capacity.

In 2014, B.C. newspaper mogul David Black had proposed a $13-billion oil refinery on B.C.’s northern coast, and Horgan says he encourages Black to bring the plan forward to go through the regulatory and environmental process.

Metro Vancouver drivers pay over 50 cents a litre in taxes to the federal and provincial governments and for carbon and transit taxes.