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Locked out employees of Co-op Refinery concerned about safety of community

Unifor members held a rally outside of the Co-op Refinery in Regina Friday during the second day of the lockout. .
Unifor members held a rally outside of the Co-op Refinery in Regina Friday during the second day of the lockout. . Dave Parsons / Global News

Unifor members are raising concerns over the safety of the Regina Co-op Refinery after hundreds of employees were locked out by their employer Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) on Thursday.

“Management that are not trained should not be running this refinery,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator for Unifor Local 594.

Union members said their concern over safety will increase the longer they are locked out.

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

“They’re running the plant on 120 people. We typically run that plant with 285 process operators. They’re highly trained, highly skilled and we have years and years of experience,” said President of Unifor 594, Kevin Bittman.

“These [replacement] workers come from the offices where they aren’t outside. They have never done these jobs. They have a little bit of training on paper, and they say that they are qualified. They’re not qualified.”

It’s not uncommon for there to be safety issues at the refinery. There have been several explosions and fires at the complex over the past 30 years. The most serious incident happened in October 2011 when 36 people were injured.

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In 2013, a Christmas Eve explosion occurred after a pipe froze and then burst.

A year later, a leak at the refinery forced a partial evacuation of the plant.

READ MORE: Hundreds of Regina Co-op Refinery workers locked out

“When things happen inside the plant, they escalate fast, and if you can’t deal with those situations like we are trained, things will get out of hand really fast,” Bittman said.

On Friday, the union moved their rally away from the refinery to Gate 7 citing safety concerns.

A Saskatchewan professor who has studied safety at the refinery for the past five years is also watching the situation closely.

“In a safety-sensitive work environment like the refinery, having a mixture of relatively inexperienced workers and fatigue is dangerous,” said Sean Tucker, associate professor of occupational, health and safety at the U of R.

“Management and FCL is betting they can run the plant safely, and Unifor is betting that they can’t.”

FCL has said safety is their number one priority. All replacement workers have their required credentials up to date in order to operate the refinery in the event of unforeseen challenges, said FCL.

Third-party safety management contractors have also been brought by the company which is normal procedure when there’s a disruption at the refinery.

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READ MORE: ‘We’re not going’: Unifor declines Co-op Refinery’s invitation to return to table

Despite the concerns, employees refuse to go back to the bargaining table unless FCL is willing to offer pension choice and security.

“Our message is get back to the bargaining table, bargain a fair deal, get your concessions off the table, and let our members get back to work and enjoy the holidays,” Doherty said.

Saskatchewan Labour Minister Don Morgan said the refinery is the main supply line for Co-ops across Saskatchewan, Alberta and into the interior of British Columbia

–With a file from The Canadian Press