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Court order aims to ease rising tensions between Unifor, Regina’s Co-op Refinery

Court order aims to ease rising tensions between Unifor, Regina’s Co-op Refinery
WATCH: A court order issued earlier this week rules that picketing Unifor members can impede traffic at the Co-op refinery for no more than ten minutes.

Following intimidation tactics by both Unifor and the Co-op Refinery, Regina courts are now involved in the companies’ labour dispute.

Justice Janet McMurtry issued an order Dec. 24 stating picketers can only stop people from entering and leaving the refinery for up to 10 minutes, or until they express their desire to proceed past the picket line.

The company and the union are in dispute over pension security. Previously, the company paid 100 per cent of the contribution, now it wants employees to contribute to their pensions plans.

McMurtry’s order seeks to deal with the rising tension between the two parties as a way to keep the peace.

“Long delays can cause tensions to rise to levels where unexpected incidents occur,” said McMurtry in her written decision.

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READ MORE: Co-op Refinery takes Unifor Local 594 to court over picketing concerns

Both Unifor and Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL) have accused the other side of harassment, abuse and violence.

Jared Savage, a safety consultant for FCL, told the court he was pushed by a picketer and that his list of replacement workers was grabbed from him. Buses carrying replacement workers are being followed and cut-off by members, Savage said.

Other witnesses for FCL claimed they were verbally abused, and that trucks are waiting hours to get into the refinery.

Co-op Refinery takes Unifor Local 594 to court over picketing concerns
Co-op Refinery takes Unifor Local 594 to court over picketing concerns

Unifor alleges the lineups of trucks are occurring because the refinery is “unnecessarily dispatching fuel trucks to increase disruptions at the facilities,” which FCL denies.

One witness told the court it was not unusual to have trucks waiting 12 hours or more prior to the Dec. 5 lockout.

“It does happen monthly, if not more,” said Tammy Hayward, an after-hours dispatcher in the petroleum distribution department.

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

Rick Benoit, who does security for Unifor, told the court he speaks with the Regina Police Service (RPS) daily “to ensure there are no issues … of public safety.”

He acknowledged in the early days of the lockout there was some yelling and roadways were being blocked, but said the picket lines have now become “peaceful, orderly and lawful.”

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Benoit said he reported several instances to the RPS of Unifor members being struck by vehicles, and seeing security workers for FCL swearing and pushing picketers. Benoit said he even saw one vehicle drive at picketers.

Several Unifor members told the court they are being taunted by FCL. One replacement worker allegedly followed a picketer and photographed his home. Another member said they were sent a text by a replacement worker that read “I’m enjoying your job.”

On Dec. 14, witnesses said 10 security guards for FCL rushed at picketers and used their hands, arms and forearms to push them. FCL denied the allegations.

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

When FCL filed the injunction against Unifor on Dec. 17 citing illegal picketing, they asked there be no delay for people entering or leaving their properties.

While McMurtry agreed there was illegal picketing, she said FCL’s request would impede on member’s right to picket, which she said was a highly important form of expression.

“It is clear Unifor would suffer greater harm if its right to communicate its position in the labour dispute and/or show support for its position were interfered with,” McMurtry said.

She added there is no evidence FCL’s losses to date are irreplaceable due to picketers’ actions. Going forward, the RPS remains responsible for enforcing any illegal activity.

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‘Extremely steady’: FCL responds

On Monday, Gil Le Dressay, vice-president of refinery operations for Federated Co-operatives Limited, said the company is pleased with the ruling and the subsequent court order.

“It respects the right of the Unifor 594 right to protest and right to express their views at the picket line, but it also respects our right to movement to ingress and egress from our property,” Le Dressay said.

“I think the ruling is very clear. What we’re looking for right now is that everybody abides by that court order.”

He noted that production at the plant is about average for this time of year and there have been no incidents during the lockout.

“It’s extremely steady operation,” Le Dressay said.

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594, said Monday there was nothing in the decision that was particularly surprising and that the picketers will continue peaceful demonstration.

“We’ve done what we’ve done right from the start. We have a constitutional right to be out here and for a peaceful assembly and that’s what we’re going to do. Spirits are still high and our members are respectful and will continue to be respectful,” Bittman said.