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Co-op, Unifor ratify new 7 year contract after 6 month labour dispute

Hundreds of workers at Regina’s Co-op oil refinery complex will be returning to work after ratification of a tentative contract.

The agreement brings an ends to a six-month labour dispute that began after refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. locked out more than 700 workers last December following a strike vote.

The company says the new contract is a seven-year deal and that employees will return to work in the coming weeks.

Unifor Local 594 had encouraged members to vote in favour of the deal, which the union says maintained the defined pension plan.

It says the new collective agreement also includes wage improvements that meet the standards agreed to by Unifor’s energy sector unions.

For weeks, union members and the Saskatchewan NDP had called on Premier Scott Moe to intervene and end the dispute by legislating binding arbitration.

The company says the labour disruption was difficult for everyone and the deal reflects the fiscal realities for refineries.


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Unions call on retailers to make pandemic-related wage premiums permanent

Unions representing essential workers at some of Canada’s major retailers are pushing back against the decision to eliminate wage premiums that were put in place to compensate employees for working during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president, in a statement. “The danger has not passed. These workers are no less at risk and are no less essential today than they were yesterday. There is no justification for ending pandemic pay now, or ever.”

The union, which represents some Metro and Loblaws employees, wants to make fair pay permanent. It created an online petition for people to ask leadership at some of Canada’s largest grocery stores and other retailers to institute the pay increases permanently.

The retailers, however, are rebuffing that call. Essential employees at Loblaw Companies Ltd., Metro Inc. and Sobeys Inc. will see their COVID-19 bonus pay eliminated Saturday, about two weeks after Walmart Canada employees experienced the cutback.

Loblaw announced Thursday in an email sent to workers that it has “decided the time is right to transition out of our temporary pay premium,” wrote Sarah Davis, Loblaw president, noting its stores and distribution centres “have settled into a good rhythm” and provinces are re-opening their economies.

The company started paying a $2-per-hour bonus, or about 15% more, on March 8 when the pandemic first started having a serious impact in Canada. It will stop the bonus pay Saturday.

Metro, which also started paying a $2 premium March 8, will end its bonus pay on Saturday as well, wrote communications manager Genevieve Gregoire, in an email.

Walmart Canada paid workers an extra $2 hourly in April and May, as well as a one-time bonus, wrote Adam Grachnik, director of corporate affairs, in an email. Pay returned to regular rates in June.

Empire Co., which owns the Sobeys and Safeway brands, launched what it called “a temporary Hero Pay Program” March 8 across its stores and distribution centres, according to an April 15 business update. All employees received an extra $50 weekly, while those working more than 20 hours per week also saw a $2 hourly wage increase.

The company sent a memo Friday to corporate store and distribution centre employees announcing the cancellation of the temporary program for corporate stores under its brands.

“As provinces execute their reopening plans and customer behaviour shifts, we felt that this was a natural time to end our Hero Pay program,” wrote chief executive Michael Medline in the memo, saying “you will be heroes to us and all Canadians forever.”

Unifor believes these companies should maintain these “long overdue” wage increases rather than eliminate them.

Many of these workers struggle financially, the union said in its petition, and hazard pay during a pandemic is the bare minimum employers should offer.

It called Loblaw’s elimination of COVID-19 bonus pay “wrong.”

Dias noted Loblaw “rightly” continues to enforce social distancing measures at its stores, so it “knows the risk is not over. It’s just trying to boost profits on the backs of its most vulnerable workers.”

The union released its statement prior to Metro’s announcement, but the union’s spokesperson Stuart Laidlaw said the sentiment applies to the Quebec-based chain as well.

While it doesn’t represent Walmart workers, it “absolutely believes that all retail workers deserve to be paid fairly, and that pandemic pay was a start,” he wrote.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union said in a statement it is “disappointed” with employers choosing to stop their extra pay practices while the pandemic is still active and some provinces still have various precautionary measures in place.

“UFCW Canada acknowledges that premium pay was introduced as part of the COVID-19 response, but the union also expressed that premium pay should be maintained throughout the pandemic.”

Loblaw stores have settled into a stable, consistent situation, wrote director of communications Catherine Thomas in an email, noting Loblaw invested more than $280 million into adjustments and safeguards, she said.

“The company is no longer benefiting financially from COVID-19.”

Metro noted a similar stability, with Gregoire saying the company is “no longer working under the crisis conditions that prevailed from March through May.” Metro implemented several prevention measures and is now transitioning into recovery, she said.

Walmart and Sobeys did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the unions’ reactions.

Dollarama Inc., which instituted its 10% temporary pay increase March 23, plans to keep it in place until July 1, according to a company statement.

“Dollarama continues to evaluate measures that can be taken regarding employee compensation both in the current business context and over the long term.”

Loblaw does plan to dole out one-time bonuses totalling $25 million, after consulting with the UFCW, which Loblaw president Davis called “a rewarding conclusion for our team.”

She said it will be paid to staff who worked shifts from March 8 to June 13 and will be about two weeks’ worth of the premium pay based on average hours worked over those 14 weeks. Workers will be paid the bonus on their first July paycheque.

Sobeys will offer a similar bonus to be paid by the end of next month, according to its memo. The chain will also accelerate plans for an employee discount program, which was initially planned to be in place by May 2021. It will now begin in the fall.

Metro will also pay its full-time employees an additional $200 bonus and part-time workers $100 by July 2, according to spokesperson Gregoire.

Walmart added a few incentives, said Grachnik, including ongoing, free access to tele-health care professionals and three new days for additional employee discounts.

 

 


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Labour action continues at Federated Co-op

Pension funding behind unrest at Co-op Refinery Complex

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 3.27.01 PMOn December 3, 2019, 729 unionized workers at Regina’s Co-op Refinery Complex, an 800-acre site in the city’s northeast sector that produces up to 145,000 barrels per day, went on strike to protect what they saw as a challenge from management on their pensions. Two days later, workers were locked out of the facility after management determined their presence constituted a threat to safety. Non-unionized staff has been brought in to maintain production, a move that has angered Unifor Local 594 members who have since organized boycotts of Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) locations such as grocery stores, gas bars and cardlocks as well as convenience stores and car washes.

Unifor’s position is that it’s all about the integrity of their negotiated contract that ensures pension security for those who choose to remain in the Defined Benefits Pension Plan (DB). The stated goal for workers is to be able to choose whether or not a Defined Contribution Pension Plan (DC) or the DB option is the right way for workers to go and whether those who choose the DB plan will have their pensions protected.

Unifor points to statements from Federated Co-op’s executive vice-president, Vic Huard who is quoted as saying, “Every single employee who currently is in the Defined Benefits Plan will remain in that plan from now until when they retire.” They argue that the company is now reneging on this in a move that will cost workers money and pension security.

Federated Co-op has countered by saying that workers are being asked to make a choice. The first option asks unionized employees to contribute to their current Defined Benefits Pension Plan, as most employees enrolled in pension plans in Canada already do. The second option is to move to a Defined Contribution Pension Plan, which is the same as the one offered to management staff, whereby FCL contributes 10%.

Currently, FCL funds the entire DB for unionized workers. In the DC scenario, workers would see the company shell out as much as 14% of the costs, while workers paid the rest. Terms of the 2016 contract froze out new workers from the DB side and received agreement to continue full pension funding for its legacy employees.

Since the 2016 agreement was inked, Federated has had a second look at the DB option and suggests that the funding of this benefit places it in a competitive disadvantage with other refineries. They claim that the benefits are impacting profits and costing big dollars to members, as well as associated Co-operatives across Western Canada. They report that their unionized employees currently earn, on average, a base wage of $104,000 per year. With overtime, that increases to $123,000.

When the Defined Benefits Pension Plan and other benefits are factored in, the total average compensation rises to $172,000 per year. They also report they are offering an increase of 11.75% over four years to the employees’ base wage before overtime, pension and benefit considerations. And, FCL has offered workers access to the company’s performance plan that pays an annual incentive bonus based on the refinery’s performance.

The union has said no deal, citing 75 years of profits at FCL and a refinery that has made close to $3 billion in profit since 2016. They comment that the profits are the result of the skilled labour and their workers are entitled to a share in the form of continued DB pension plan contributions by FCL. Workers are now picketing retail locations and the union has been running a billboard campaign in cities across the West.

The Refinery Complex has also been the recipient of a blockade, where fuel trucks have been prevented from entering the plant. Videos that seek to ‘out’ replacement workers have also been hitting the Internet. On January 13, 2020, Unifor 594 blockaded the Prairie Sky Co-op’s Crossroads location in Weyburn. There, picketers permitted customers of the gas bar, cardlock and restaurant to come and go, but employees were only allowed in, making it difficult for the business. Other locations such as Winnipeg’s Pembina and Taylor gas bar, car wash and c-store have seen Unifor teams picket and distribute information as the strike moves toward a third month of action.

Octane editor Kelly Gray can be reached at kgray@ensembleiq.com