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Unifor maintains refinery blockade as lockout approaches second month

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30 January, 2020Eight hundred members of Unifor Local 594 have been blockading the Co-op Refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada since they were locked out on December 5. They are offering to lift the blockade if the employer returns to the negotiating table.

The refinery is owned by Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), who have tried to keep the site operational and protect fuel supplies to local co-ops in Western Canada by using scab labour, sometimes using helicopters to fly in supplies and staff. Union members have blockaded the refinery gates and attempted to stop traffic. FCL has tried to break the blockade with court orders, which union members have defied.

After the union refused to accept a major downgrade of the pension scheme, negotiations broke down and workers were locked out on 5 December. Unifor, an IndustriALL affiliate with 315,000 members, argues that FCL, which reported a CA$ 959m profit in 2019, can afford to maintain the current pension scheme.

Unifor members blockade the refinery

Photo: Unifor 594

Unifor, which is calling for a boycott of co-op businesses, put out a call to its members to support the picket line and blockade the refinery. Secondary pickets were set up at co-op businesses across Western Canada. FCL obtained an injunction against the union, limiting the blockade to ten-minute periods. On 20 January, Unifor national president Jerry Dias and 13 other union members and officials were arrested for taking part in a blockade that the police called illegal.

The arrested trade unionists were later released, and are awaiting trial. IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches sent a letter to Jerry Dias, saying:

“IndustriALL Global Union urges the Regina police to refrain from resorting to heavy-handed tactics, which have included the arrests of peacefully demonstrating Unifor members. The police should respect fully the right of workers to protest the shameful behaviour of the Co-op Refinery.”

After a separate incident, Unifor was found to be in contempt of court and fined CA$ 100,000. The union has condemned the unprovoked arrest of its members by the police, and the support for the employer from right-wing politicians of the ruling Saskatchewan Party.

Photo: Unifor 594

On 29 January, Unifor was issued with another contempt order because of the blockades. The union said it would remove the blockades if FCL returned to the bargaining table. The company has agreed, and a meeting is scheduled for 31 January.

Jerry Dias said,

“Unifor has always been deeply committed to bargaining a fair contract for refinery workers, but this is the first move we have seen that suggests FCL is interested in getting a deal.”

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“Co-ops are supposed to offer a different business model, based on respect for the community and a commitment to co-operation. But through its behaviour, FCL is showing it is as bad as any union-busting multinational.

“FCL can afford to pay its workers a decent pension. It must return to the bargaining table and finalize an agreement with Unifor.”

Photo: Unifor 594