THE IRONY IS STUNNING AND INFURIATING. No co-op does that. No company that calls itself a “co-operative” absolutely, categorically, adamantly, perversely refuses to co-operate. But the Federated Co-operatives Limited in Regina did, and does.
First, it locks out all its 800 plus refinery workers represented by Unifor Local 594. Then, it brings in scabs to run the plant. Then, it refuses to negotiate for over 100 days. Then, it rejects all recommendations from mediators. Then, on lockout day 111, it’s “final offer” is to demand more concessions.
Direct government action called for
Such corporate arrogance makes immediate government action legitimate and necessary says Unifor National President, Jerry Dias.
Dias says the mediation set up by Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe needed to be binding and not just “a friendly suggestion for Co-op to ignore.” But it wasn’t.
The Co-op’s high-handed actions leaves the government with no alternative, says Dias. “The province must introduce legislation to end to this dispute and force this rogue employer to restore safe operation of Saskatchewan’s largest refinery.”
The “final offer” from Co-op demands concessions that go far beyond what was proposed by the mediators’ report commissioned and paid for by the Saskatchewan government. Co-op’s new demands include a significant reduction in the company’s pension responsibilities while gutting the employee savings plan.
The lockout began after Local 594 members refused to give in to aggressive demands from the company for concessions that would have “gutted the pension plan.”
The union says it wants “choice and protection to ensure pension security for every worker. Anything less would be an unnecessary concession”.
Choice, for the union, means giving workers the option to stick with their defined benefits pension plan; protection means no tampering with the plan to “gut” it for those who do choose to stick with the defined benefits plan.
“This will be resolved when the Co-op Refinery decides to take their demand for concessions off the table,”said Scott Doherty, lead negotiator for Unifor Local 594.
Doherty says, “it’s just plain ridiculous” to ask the workers to to give concessions to an employer that made $2.5 billion in the last three years.
“Co-op has never wanted to compromise. They want it all,” said Kevin Bittman, Unifor Local 594 President. “But it’s too late for that. The mediators’ report was the process that workers and the company agreed to, we ratified it with a 98% vote, and it’s what Scott Moe needs to enforce.”
“The crowded scab camp is a health disaster waiting to happen. It is in the province’s interest for Premier Moe to put an end to this lockout and close the scab camp once and for all,” said Dias.
Swimming in money
Co-op Refinery is not some tiny mom and pop operation hanging on by its fingertips. It has over 500 gas stations in four provinces, and diesel churning through most farms on the Prairies. The Co-op Refinery Complex produces 145,000 barrels per day and covers 800 acres of land in the north east corner of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Consultants say a business can pay out up to 30% of gross sales in wages and salaries and still be in great shape. In 2018 Suncor, for example, paid out 8.2 % of gross sales in salaries and wages; by comparison, Co-op only paid out 4.2% of its gross sales in salaries and wages.
A Local 594 publication notes: “The numbers don’t lie. We aren’t being paid too much. Maybe, we are being paid too little. But that’s okay. Our membership has made bargaining for the future, rather than the present, a priority. Pension security compared to wage increases and benefits, because we are here for the long haul.
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