Regina Co-op Refinery will lock out employees if necessary

Employees of the Co-op Refinery hit the picket line after being locked out by their employer, Thursday. .
Employees of the Co-op Refinery hit the picket line after being locked out by their employer, Thursday. .

Update: Federated Cooperative Limited (FCL) was given a 48-hour strike notice from Unifor Local 594 around 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. Approximately 800 refinery workers are expected to begin their strike on Thursday at 4:30 p.m.

In a tweet, the refinery said they are disappointed to receive the strike notice and the executive hopes to return to the bargaining table in the near future. The two sides remain far apart on pension issues.

Unifor’s lead negotiator Scott Doherty tweeted the union was issued a lockout notice by FCL after issuing their strike notice. The Co-op Refinery confirmed they issued the notice, which can take effect at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday.

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Regina Co-op Refinery workers voted 97.3 per cent in favour of strike action, if necessary, as the union representing them said Tuesday its position on pensions has not changed since mediation broke down on Nov. 12.

“We are pleased but not surprised,” said Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594.

“Our members are justifiably frustrated. Morale is low. Nobody enjoys going to the job they love when Co-op continues to show such pettiness and contempt for their expertise and value.”

In an open letter on Nov. 30, Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) said it is offering two pension options: have employees contribute to the defined benefits pension plan or move employees to an “industry-leading” defined contribution plan.

The defined benefit pension plan is currently funded purely by the employer.

READ MORE: Mediation breakdown leaves Co-op Refinery workers feeling ‘frustrated’

Unifor Local 594 said it wants to give employees the option to remain in the current defined benefit plan or switch to a defined contribution plan. The union has described FCL’s defined benefit offer as a “gutted” version of the original.

“The union is willing to make changes to pension liabilities but will not budge on pension security for every worker. At this time when Co-op is raking in billions in profit, anything less is an unnecessary concession,” said Scott Doherty, lead Unifor negotiator.

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READ MORE: U of R professor educating public on health, safety of refinery

FCL maintains it is offering employees a fair deal, adding that its offer includes an 11.75 per cent compensation increase over four years. The union says they will not budge on pension security as the refinery “rakes in billions in profits.”

In a statement, FCL said they are disappointed to see Unifor members vote in favour of potential strike action. FCL adds they hope to see Unifor back at the bargaining table later this month.

Co-op said that they have no intention of locking employees out before Christmas, but will issue a lockout notice if they feel the union is creating an unsafe operating environment.

Temporary work camps have been set up at the Co-op Refinery to house temporary workers in the event of a strike or lockout.

Unifor represents about 800 Co-op Refinery employees in 21 job classifications. The union said they will continue to keep the refinery “safe and profitable” while the bargaining team considers what is next.

The union has not yet issued strike notice.