‘Retailers are funding our lockout’: Unifor erects third blockade around Co-op retailer

Picketers blocked off the Sherwood Co-op Home Centre and Gas Bar in Regina on Thursday to keep retailers out. Stewart Manhas / Global News

At 4 a.m. Thursday morning, members of Unifor 594 put up fences around the Sherwood Co-op Home Centre and Gas Bar in Regina.

Located at Winnipeg Street and Ninth Avenue, the blockade is their third since the workers at the Co-op Refinery were locked out by Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL) on Dec. 5.

READ MORE: Refinery strike travels to Weyburn as more blockades restrict access to Co-op gas

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor 594, says the fence will remain for at least the day to block retailers out.

“The reason we do this is the retailers are funding our lockout,” Bittman said.

Forty days into the lockout, and picketing in extreme temperatures, Bittman said members of the local remain positive.

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“There’s so much on the line that there is no other option than to fight,” Bittman said.

He said the union never expected the lockout to be this hard getting back to the bargaining table, or the dispute to get so heated.

Picketers set up a fence around the Sherwood Co-op Home Centre and Gas Bar in Regina on Jan. 16, 2020. Stewart Manhas / Global News
“[Members] have been on their best behaviours, they’ve remained their cool on the picket line, they’ve been maintaining a positive attitude,” he said.

“The smear tactics by the company and painting us as these thugs that are running around town and spiking vehicles — it’s disheartening.”

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Local 594 has been accused of making the “Meet the Scabs” video — which was created by the national Unifor office — damaging fuel trucks and even violence. FCL has accused the other side of similar allegations.

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

Despite the state of nastiness the dispute has risen to online, the local says it remains focused on the streets — and that is getting a fair deal when it comes to their pensions.

“We’re not going to sit at home and wait for them to call us,” Bittman said. “We’re going to continue to put pressure on the company… we’ll continue to escalate.”

Unifor Local 594 says they’re not going to sit at home and wait for FCL to call them. Stewart Manhas / Global News

Three years ago members of Local 594 gave up concessions as they were promised their pensions would go untouched, Bittman said.

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“To be perfectly clear, every single employee who currently is in the defined benefits plan will remain in that plan from now until when they retire,” said Vic Huard, executive vice-president of FCL during the union’s last round of contract negotiating.

READ MORE: Unifor asks Co-op to resume negotiations, maintains position on pension security

Unifor says all they want is what they were promised three years ago by FCL.

“We’re asking for what we had going into this bargaining, and the company is trying to turn that around and say we have to take our demands off the table,” Bittman said.

“We have no demands. What we want is what we had before, and nothing more.”

FCL has previously stated they are offering a fair deal to employees by asking the union to contribute to their pension. They are encouraging the union to get back to the bargaining table.

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