Unifor 594 strikes tentative deal with Sask. Co-op Refinery after 6-month labour dispute
REGINA -- After a labour dispute that spanned more than six months, the Co-op Refinery has come to a tentative agreement with Unifor Local 594.
“This deal, if accepted by bargaining unit employees, along with the operational efficiencies our team has recently realized, will go a long way towards ensuring a sustainable CRC for generations to come,” said Gil Le Dressay, Vice President, Refinery Operations in a news release. “The labour disruption has been a difficult process for everyone involved, but we are hopeful that the membership will ratify the deal, and our employees will return to work soon. We want to thank our community for their patience and support throughout this process.”
A release from the union says the its bargaining committee has tentatively accepted the proposal, which means it will be recommended to members.
The union will have to hold a ratification vote. Following that vote the details of the agreement will be released.
“I am so proud of the solidarity, strength and courage of our membership,” said Kevin Bittman, Local 594 President. “They never wavered throughout this nasty dispute, and we will always be grateful for the support we received from our Unifor family and the entire labour movement. This was union-busting from an employer that has made billions off of our backs and together we fought and defended our collective agreement."
Bittman says a ratification vote will likely be held on Monday.
The Co-op Refinery issued a lockout notice to Unifor Local 594 on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2019 at 5:30 p.m. Earlier that day, the union issued a 48-hour strike notice to the employer after 97.3 per cent of members voted in favour.
Neither side showed signs of backing down on Dec. 13. Union members blocked trucks from entering the refinery complex, and 26 independent trucking companies in Regina said their drivers were mentally and physically drained while waiting in line to get inside and to leave the refinery.
One company said a driver waited for more than 24 hours in the lineup.
Kevin Bittman, the president with Unifor Local 594 who represents up to 800 workers said the lineup of trucks is a tactic from the refinery, and that there is no harassment from union members. He added that many drivers are actually in support of the union workers.
Unifor announced on Jan. 7, 2020 at a rally in Regina that union members from across the country would be travelling to Regina to join them on the picket lines.
The union said that was part of their plan to increase the pressure on Co-op, which also includes doing more to expose replacement workers at the facility.
As picketing entered week six, refinery offices and Co-op Cardlock locations were barricaded by the union.
“We've taken it to FCL’s office, they're the ones funding this, it's the retailers' money that they're using to fly in the helicopters and they locked us out of our work, so we're going to take it to their head office here in Regina and lock them out of their work,” Union president Kevin Bittman said.
Co-op was concerned about emergency crews having access to the facilities. They also said this move violated December’s court order and they were looking into their legal options.
Jan. 20 saw the arrest of Unifor president Jerry Dias and 13 other union members, including Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle.
Regina Police Chief Evan Bray and Unifor national leader Jerry Dias both spoke to the media the morning following the arrests.
Bray said his officers arrested 14 Unifor members on Monday evening, and an ambulance was needed for a medical emergency, which officers were able to successfully coordinate.
Chief Bray stressed his respect for unions and the importance of job action.
“The upgrader and its employees are an integral part of our community,” Bray mentioned that most of the members arrested are not community members and have no vested interest in our community.
At the end of January, the two sides returned to the bargaining table and talks quickly broke down after one day of negotiations.
On Feb. 5,
across the Prairie provinces.
Later that day, fuel haulers drove their trucks through downtown Regina to protest union barricades at the Co-op refinery.
A privately contracted fuel truck driver was one of eight who were locked inside the Co-op Refinery Complex on the morning on Feb. 6.
Seven truckers were locked inside the Ninth Avenue loading terminal, they have since been released. An eighth driver was locked inside the McDonald Street loading terminal, but was allowed to leave around 1:15 p.m.
The drivers and their trucks went into the refinery around 3 a.m. that morning to fuel up. Before they could leave, the drivers allege Unifor members set up gates and locked the drivers inside.
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Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers were brought in by Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan to help mediate the labour dispute between the refinery and its union workers on Feb. 18.
Unifor said it was prepared to accept the recommendations laid out by the province's special mediators on March 20, around one month after mediation began.
Two days later, the employer said it’s “unable to accept” the recommendations made by the special mediators.