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Unifor barricades Co-op card lock in Saskatoon

Unifor barricades Co-op card lock in Saskatoon
WATCH: Unifor set up barricades outside a Co-op on the outskirts of Saskatoon.

The Saskatchewan government is urging Unifor to remove a blockade at a Federated Co-op Ltd. (FCL) location in Saskatoon over fears it could jeopardize upcoming negotiations.

Barricades went up Friday morning at the company’s bulk terminal on Beam Road in Saskatoon’s north end.

READ MORE: Blockades being removed at Co-op refinery on 9th Avenue North: Regina police

A government spokesperson said Don Morgan, the province’s minister of labour relations, immediately contacted Unifor Local 594 on hearing the news.

“The minister asked Unifor 594 to take down the blockades over concerns that the latest blockade has the potential to undermine efforts to reach a mediated settlement in good faith,” Jim Billington said.

Morgan added the special mediator is still scheduled to meet with the parties and is hopeful Unifor Local 594 takes down the blockades and bargains in good faith.

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FCL officials said they’re disappointed after learning Unifor had erected fences around the facility days before the two sides resume bargaining with a provincially-appointed mediator.

“These latest antics are disappointing, but after everything Unifor has done, they’re unfortunately not surprising, said FCL CEO Scott Banda.

“We’re taking the appointment of a special mediator and the resumption of bargaining next week very seriously,” Banda said. “All we ask is that our union partners in this negotiation will do the same and end these illegal blockades.”

READ MORE: Regina police chief calls blockade tactics by Unifor ‘borderline terrorist work’

Unifor said its members across the country will continue secondary picketing to promote a boycott of all Co-op retailers.

“Scott Banda has a well-earned reputation of being anti-worker, and has a long history of instigating contentious labour disputes, including prolonged job actions in Moose Jaw, Calgary, and now Regina,” Unifor national president Jerry Dias said in a release.

“Co-operatives are meant to serve local members, not out-of-province scabs who are taking their earnings elsewhere.”

An FCL spokesperson told Global News the company continues “to pursue legal avenues, such as injunctions, that will help us access and operate our business.”

As of Friday afternoon, an injunction hadn’t been filed in Saskatoon court.

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RCMP spokesperson Jessica Cantos said officers were told the Saskatoon protest would last three days.

“Warman RCMP and Corman Park Police Service are currently on scene to maintain and keep the peace,” Cantos said.

No roads were blocked, Cantos said, and RCMP will remain on-scene 24 hours per day to “uphold the law, maintain the public peace and ensure safety for all parties.”

No arrests have been made and “the situation is very peaceful,” Cantos said.

READ MORE: Court finds Unifor Local 594 guilty of breaching injunction, no jail time issued

The two sides have been in a bitter contract dispute after Unifor issued a strike notice, prompting FCL to lock out employees at its Regina Co-op Refinery Complex on Dec. 5, 2019.

Unifor Local 594 has been fined twice after breaching court injunctions limiting picketers to delaying traffic in and out of the complex for no longer than 10 minutes.

The local was fined $100,000 the first time and $250,000 the second time.

Unifor has barricaded Co-op’s fuel terminal in Carseland, Alta. A judge ordered it removed after Co-op sought an injunction against the union.

FCL said Unifor has also blocked its trucks from accessing third-party fuel terminals in Winnipeg and Prince George, B.C.

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On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan government-appointed Vince Ready to assist in negotiations between the two sides.

Ready has worked in labour relations since 1965 and arbitrated and or mediated more than 7,000 labour and commercial disputes in Canada.

The parties and Ready will have 20 days to reach an agreement once meetings start.

Talks are scheduled to start on Feb. 18, but FCL said the latest actions by Unifor place those in jeopardy.

“When Premier Moe offered the assistance of a special mediator for bargaining, he was clear that it would only happen if illegal blockades were removed,” the company said in a statement to Global News.

“We’ve said all along that we can’t bargain while Unifor’s illegal blockades are in place. You can’t bargain when your business is being held hostage.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan government appoints special mediator in Unifor, Co-op dispute

Dias said they started secondary picketing after FCL brought in “new scab trailers” to the refinery complex.

“We have a great deal of confidence in mediator Vince Ready but our experience with FCL, and this latest stunt, gives us little confidence this employer’s willingness to bargain,” Dias said.

“We’ve seen too many tactics to prolong this dispute, but we will proceed in good faith and hope the mediation process will be a turning point.”

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FCL said this is a misrepresentation by Unifor.

The company said the trailers brought to the refinery site are for use by outside contractors for turnaround maintenance.

“These are not replacement workers who are filling in for Unifor members — they are contractors who are brought in to work on the maintenance turnaround every year,” FCL said in a statement to Global News.

A division of Unifor represents some Global news employees.