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‘Greedy Co-op’: Unifor launches nationwide boycott of Co-op retailers

Members of Unifor Local 594 hold signs during a rally outside the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Thursday December 5, 2019.
Members of Unifor Local 594 hold signs during a rally outside the Co-op Refinery in Regina on Thursday December 5, 2019. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

Unifor is calling for a nationwide boycott of all Co-op businesses and services as nearly 800 Regina Co-op Refinery workers remain locked out by Federated Co-operative Ltd. (FCL).

“If Co-op wants to hit refinery workers with a lockout, it’s time to hit Co-op where it hurts,” said Unifor national president Jerry Dias.

FCL is owned by more than 200 Co-op retailers across the country. From Victoria to Winnipeg, Unifor says they will picket “anywhere you see a Co-op logo.”

“Boycott greedy Co-op groceries, greedy Co-op gas and greedy Co-op hardware,” said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator for Unifor Local 595 which represents the workers.

READ MORE: Co-op Refinery using helicopters to transport staff, supplies into Regina plant

On Sunday, Unifor launched a boycott campaign at Hotel Saskatchewan in downtown Regina that will place ads, billboards and picketers at retail locations across Canada.

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“Local Co-ops must speak out to the FCL board and use their power to end this lockout and get refinery workers a fair contract and the pension they were promised by FCL just two years ago,” Dias said.

The Co-op Refinery maintains they’re offering workers a fair deal which includes an 11.75 per cent wage increase over four years, a performance bonus plan and pension choice.

“What they fail to mention is the proposal that they’re offering eliminates a savings plan that takes 6.5 per cent out of every worker’s pocket,” said Kevin Bittman, president of Local 594.

Bittman said members would have to pay 11 per cent into the defined benefit plan and there’d be a change to the formula which would take “hundreds of thousands of dollars out of our pension plans.”

READ MORE: Tensions escalate at Regina Co-op Refinery as van tries to cross picket line

Their other option is to choose the defined benefit contribution plan by paying four per cent, but that option leaves them with half the benefits workers have now, he said.

“Retirement planning doesn’t happen overnight, and these changes would be a massive blow to everyone that works out there and their retirement plans,” Bittman said.

“This dispute isn’t about wages. It’s about respect.”

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In a statement to Global News, Co-op Refinery said it’s the union who is lacking respect.

“Unifor has demonstrated that they have no respect for the hardworking truck drivers who haul fuel from our refinery and no respect for western Canadian farmers who need fuel to dry and haul their grain during a very difficult crop year.”

The refinery said Unifor’s lack of respect is now translating to Co-op members across Canada.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Trucking Association demands ‘respect for truck drivers’ at Co-op Refinery

While they weren’t surprised by the boycott, the refinery said it is disappointed as the union is losing touch with Western Canada.

The union feels otherwise.

“In the polling that we’ve done, the community and consumers are going to support that they don’t want to be shopping at a [company] that locks out their workers 20 days before Christmas,” said Doherty, who referred to the Co-op as the “Grinch.”

The refinery continues to urge the union to get back to the bargaining table where they can have “meaningful talks.”

However, the union says they refuse to budge. They’re hoping the boycott will pressure FCL to bargain a fair deal.

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Unifor Local 594 members have been locked out since Dec. 5.