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FCA workers approve Unifor deal to retool Windsor plant for making electric vehicles

Unionized workers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Canada have voted to approve a new three-year contract, Unifor said Monday.

About 78% of votes were in favour of the deal, according to the union.

The deal, which was announced last week and voted on over the weekend, will add about 2,000 new jobs by 2024, helping the company bounce back from staffing cuts over recent months.

At a news conference last week, Unifor national president Jerry Dias said a third shift was cut this summer, eliminating 1,500 positions and leaving 425 workers laid off after restructuring and retirement incentives.

“Workers who have feared plant closures and job losses in recent years can now look forward to a bright future with good jobs for years to come,” Dias said in an update Monday.

Under the new agreement, $14.4 million will be invested in its Etobicoke, Ont. plant, $50 million will be invested in its Brampton, Ont., plant, and $1.35 billion to $1.5 billion will be invested in reinventing its Windsor, Ont., plant to produce at least one electric vehicle, FCA said.

Unifor said last week it had averted a strike to reach a deal with FCA on behalf of its 8,400 unionized workers, following difficult negotiations around a pattern agreement put in place last month by Ford Motor.

After Ford’s agreement was announced, the federal and provincial governments said they would contribute millions to Ford’s electric vehicle assembly.

The new deal follows the improved benefits and matches the wages laid out in the pattern agreement, including five per cent increases to hourly rates, a $7,250 signing bonus and $4,000 inflation bonuses.

FCA also said that it is working with both governments on its electric vehicle investments – although the company did not specify if any government funding announcement is forthcoming.

Unifor’s new agreement with FCA also includes an anti-racism action plan, paid leave for domestic violence victims and acknowledgment of Pride month each June.

The union said it will enter its final round of negotiations with the last Detroit Three automaker, General Motors, this week.


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‘What do we do now?’ Labour dispute at Regina refinery nears 6 months

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 11.08.12 AMFor Dean Funke, getting hired at Regina’s Co-op oil refinery felt like winning the lottery.

“For a blue-collar worker, you can’t get better than the refinery. And it’s always been that way,” he told The Canadian Press.

Born and raised in Saskatchewan’s capital, Funke had worked in Alberta’s oilpatch but the refinery job allowed him to stay home and put down roots.

Nearly a decade later, the process-operator-turned-picket-captain wonders what he might do next as a dragging labour dispute between the refinery and his union nears the six-month mark.

“They’re hard conversations. What do we do now? Go get another skill, I guess, is my option, so go back to school?” he said.

“Maybe this isn’t where we’re going to finish our careers. Hopefully it is, but you never know.”

About 700 unionized workers were locked out by refinery owner, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., on Dec. 5 after they took a strike vote.

One of the most contentious issues were proposed changes to employee pensions because of costs to the company.

“Negotiators from FCL have indicated they are prepared for prolonged job action,” reads a briefing note prepared for Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of labour relations earlier this year. It was released to The Canadian Press under freedom-of-information legislation.

Over the winter, Unifor members blocked access to the refinery, which led to fines, court hearings and police arrests. Mischief charges were laid against 14 people, including the union’s national president, Jerry Dias.

“Co-op won’t return to the table unless Unifor removes the barricades, i.e stops breaking the law. Unifor won’t remove the barricades unless the Co-op removes all replacement workers. I think they call that a Mexican standoff,” a labour relations official wrote in an email at the time.

Premier Scott Moe appointed veteran labour mediator Vince Ready, who made recommendations that were accepted by workers, but not the company.

In turn, the refinery owner put forward its final offer, which members rejected.

About 200 replacement workers and 350 managers are keeping the plant running, said the company.

“This is labour relations at its most brutal,” said Scott Walsworth, a business professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

“This is kind of the threat that holds labour relations together _ that you’d better work things out and keep a good relationship with the other side or else you’ll end up like the refinery.”

Walsworth, who’s also an arbitrator, believes the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown has swung the pendulum of public support towards the company.

“It’s hard to manufacture sympathy in this kind of a climate, when so many people are out of work.”

The refinery has cut oil production because of low prices and a drop in demand. Walsworth said it makes it a convenient time not to be paying employees.

The crisis has also created expectations for employers to be sympathetic and not to put profits before people, he added.

“I don’t think Co-op wants to get on the wrong side of that momentum.”

In a statement, Co-op spokesman Brad DeLorey said the company hopes Unifor reconsiders the final offer, which he said exceeds compensation at other Canadian refineries.

Co-op has criticized Unifor for trying to disrupt the fuel supply of farmers busy with spring seeding by picketing cardlocks.

Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman said the pandemic makes it tough for the union to get its message out when members can’t meet in person or rally in large groups.

He also said the company’s demands have been met and there’s nothing left to bargain.

The Opposition NDP has joined the union in calling on the Saskatchewan Party government to intervene and legislate binding arbitration. Premier Scott Moe, calling the dispute a fight between a private company and a union, has rejected the idea.

Walsworth said under provincial labour laws, the government can’t force a private employer into binding arbitration unless the case can be made that society is in danger.

If the refinery owner says its equipment and those living around the plant are safe – and without evidence to prove otherwise – “it’s a pretty tough case to make that the government should step in.”

Without both sides consenting to binding arbitration or the appointment of another mediator, which the government isn’t considering, the waiting continues.

“How do you break this stalemate?” asked Walsworth.


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Government appoints special mediator in Regina oil refinery labour dispute

Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 11.08.12 AMThe Saskatchewan government has appointed a special mediator in a contract dispute that has dragged on for more than two months at a Regina oil refinery.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said veteran arbitrator Vince Ready will try to help refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and the union for about 700 workers to reach an agreement.

He said it is in the interest of both parties to negotiate a contract at the bargaining table.

“We are appointing a special mediator to help resolve the impasse because of the impact of the dispute on Saskatchewan families, communities and businesses,” he said in a news release.

Also on Feb. 12, a judge found Unifor guilty for the second time of violating a court injunction that said members could not prevent traffic from moving in and out of the plant. Justice Neil Robertson fined the union $250,000 on top of a $100,000 penalty last month.

Ready, who has worked in labour relations for more than five decades, was to begin his work Feb. 18.

Premier Scott Moe said he hopes Ready’s appointment will be the “first significant step toward an agreement.”

“It is my true hope that we’re able to move forward – and move forward swiftly – in finding a resolution to this situation that is best for all involved and best for all in the province,” Moe said.

Federated Co-operatives said it looks forward to getting a deal done.

“Since the premier’s first offer of a special mediator, we have welcomed this appointment and the opportunity to have productive bargaining,” the company said in a statement.

“We look forward to meaningful discussions with Mr. Ready that lead to a long-term, sustainable agreement that works for both parties.”

The news was also met positively by Unifor.

“I applaud the government’s decision for appointing the mediator and we hope he can help us in getting a settlement,” said Local 594 president Kevin Bittman.

Negotiations have gone nowhere because of the company’s stubbornness at the bargaining table, he said.

“The Co-op is seeking to gut our jobs and our pensions during a time of record profits,” Bittman said.

“We have asked for the standard industry pay increases and to leave the pensions that FCL promised they would not touch three years ago.”

Federated Co-operatives locked out workers Dec. 5 when the union issued strike notice. Pensions are the main sticking point in the contract fight.

The company has said Unifor’s barricades at the Co-op refinery site were leading to gasoline shortages in some communities because trucks hauling fuel weren’t able to get in or out of the plant.

Ready is to recommend terms for an agreement if the two sides can’t reach a deal with his help within 20 days.

Ready was involved in trying to find a solution in a prolonged forestry strike on Vancouver Island going back to July. A tentative deal was reached this week.

He was part of negotiations in the 2014 teachers strike in British Columbia and published a binding report resolving a stalemate between B.C. Ferries and its employees union in 2007.

He also resolved a violent dispute at the Giant gold mine in Yellowknife in 1992. That strike resulted in the deaths of nine workers in a mine explosion. Miner Roger Warren was convicted of setting up the blast.


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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.