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Co-op refinery workers in Regina, Canada continue to fight back

Members of Unifor Local 594 standing tall through lockout
By J Burger |
February 10, 2020
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Refinery workers in Regina, Canada resist lock out.
Refinery workers in Regina, Canada resist lock out. (J Burger)

Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada - An epic fight of refinery workers has unfolded in the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada at a unionized refinery. Workers who are members of Unifor Local 594 were locked out December 5, 2019 by a boss that just wants more. The company, Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL), has hired hundreds of scabs and flies them in via helicopter.

Ten weeks into the lockout, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has stepped in as corporate enforcers, violating a judge’s order. They dismantled Unifor picket lines and even took away the port-a-potties. This struggle is important for the North American labor movement, as this workforce challenges the billionaire class.

In November, as the contract neared expiration, 725 of 730 refinery workers voted to take job action. Their employer CRC, the crown jewel in a host of businesses throughout the FCL co-op chain, took a take-it-or-leave-it stance in bargaining. The co-op is a combination of producers and consumer businesses that rose from a movement of progressive farmers in the 1930s. Many consumer owners of the co-op have been rudely awakened by the rogue behavior of the corporate lackeys now running the co-op board.

“Members saw the writing on the wall in this round of bargaining and had been preparing for this fight. Management had taken the position ‘agree to everything that is on the table or we are done here,’ which we saw as a wake-up call,” said Carla McCrie, recording secretary of Unifor Local 594 and a 15-year employee at the plant.

“This greedy management team has hijacked negotiations for their profit, not our benefit, with managements demands in bargaining going far beyond the pension issue. They intend cutting union jobs. This, combined with their proposed take-back in the savings plan and other work rules, are things we just cannot allow without a fight,” she added. “We have made this company very profitable through our hard work, and they are turning their backs on the promises made to us. We will not give in, this is our livelihood.”

Carla McCrie and the rest of the local’s leadership have taken up tasks to keep the picket lines strong since day one.

Local 594 has been active with the workforce on this property since the 1930s and the workforce has not been in a dispute like this before, according to local leaders. The co-op began the current fight with its workforce some three years ago when they insisted on taking away a defined benefit pension. The compromise in 2016 meant existing employees would keep the defined benefit pension and new hires would be offered the defined contribution pension. In 2016, the employer brought scab housing to the complex. Seeing it set up before this latest round of bargaining was not lost on the workforce. McCrie said, “We knew they were coming for us this time.”

The media has cast the story as ‘well-paid workers who don’t want a change.’ Right-wing radio and media appear to be lined up on the side of the employer. On the picket lines, you get a different story.

Workers will tell you that the cuts offered to the defined benefits pension and the defined contribution pension are coupled with management’s demand to do away with a savings plan that the co-op contributes to. They also point out an astronomical growth in managers.

“The company wants to remove everyone from the DB plan now, for us to give up what we have worked for. We cannot do that,” said one worker, speaking of the defined benefits pension. Co-op management is dug in at the bargaining table, seeking to equalize with union employees that which they unilaterally took away from supervisor last summer, the employer contribution to savings plan. Supervisors secretly tell picketers on the line that they are hoping that the union can keep the savings plan, in hopes that theirs may be restored.

“Three years ago, in process control, there might be one manager, now there is one for every two workers. They get in the way, contradict one another and really slow production,” said McCrie. Since2016, the company has hired many more managers, who shadow workers on the line. Many of these front-line managers are being pushed to the breaking point, working 12 days on with two days off, working side-by-side with scabs.

This new hiring of frontline supervisors was justified over the past three years to the workforce as “protection in case there was a terrorist attack.” Supposedly, management would run the plant. Many on the picket lines expressed an understanding that hiring such a large number of managers clearly revealed the bosses’ intentions in bargaining.

Current situation

Since Unifor national took over the picket lines and barricaded the plant entrances, workers’ spirits have lifted. Hundreds of Unifor members from throughout Canada heeded the nationals call to come to Regina and walk the picket lines. Members came from Vancouver to Newfoundland.

As the costs have skyrocketed for the company and the product was cut off in Alberta’s Carseland fuel depot, news reports of fuel shortages have popped up throughout western Canada. The lucrative oil and gas industry at the co-op has witnessed record-breaking profits: $1.1 billion in 2018 and on track for $985 million in 2019. The workers of Unifor Local 594 know who generates their profits and will continue the fight one day longer than this greedy employer to ensure they can get a piece of that which the produce.

The local is asking for labor activists to like them on social media, learn about their fight and share the stories with your networks. Please write www.boycottco-op.ca and express your solidarity.

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