Unifor president Jerry Dias has called for Premier Scott Moe and his government to intervene in the ongoing labour dispute between the union and the Co-op Refinery Complex, but the government is non-committal.
The union also asked that a new, separate independent mediator be assigned to the case, as negotiations have been unsuccessful so far with the currently appointed mediator.
“We continue to encourage both parties to return to the bargaining table where the provincially appointed mediator can assist parties in negotiating an agreement,” Don Morgan, Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, said in an emailed statement.
The government also re-emphasized that a provincial mediator has been in place. Morgan’s statement remains unchanged, even after the union clarified it wants someone new, a government spokesperson added.
The union says it’s willing to bargain, as does the Co-op Refinery Complex, but the sides have provided two seemingly opposing conditions.
Co-op is adamant the union must remove fencing and what it calls “illegal blockades” before it returns to the bargaining table, according to Brad DeLorey, director of communications at the refinery.
“We’ll take down our fencing as a sign of good faith when they get rid of all the scabs out of the camp that are doing our members’ jobs,” Scott Doherty, national representative for Unifor, said.
DeLorey replied that, just as unions have a right to picket in a legal and fair manner, the refinery also has the right to continue operations with the work of replacement workers.
Dias meeting with Bray ‘productive’
Unifor National President Jerry Dias met with Regina’s police chief Evan Bray Thursday to discuss tensions that have formed between the Co-op Refinery Complex and Unifor since about 800 refinery employees were locked out on Dec. 5, 2019.
“Chief Bray will not be holding a media scrum, but he described the meeting as productive,” read a statement from Elizabeth Popowich, RPS spokesperson.
“[Bray] said the two had a frank conversation focused on public safety and exchanged contact information for future communication.”
Dias said at a news conference Thursday morning that Regina Police Service officers had been violent while arresting 14 Unifor members Monday.
“Though the chief will describe Monday as an act of responsibility by the police that were there, those that were on the picket line witnesses something much differently. We witnessed violence,” he said.
“People were pushed around. Women were pushed around. Women were told to get out of the way or they’ll push them out of the way.”
Dias also claimed that one Unifor members was sent to hospital and that seniors on the picket line were pushed around by police.
In a Facebook video on Wednesday, Regina police chief Evan Bray denied the allegations, saying officers acted with “respect and professionalism and patience.”
Dias quoted Martin Luther King Thursday, saying the union would be doubling down on its efforts and would not surrender to rules he said systematically put working class people at a disadvantage.
“[King] had a saying that always stuck with us. His saying was: ‘One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.'”
Co-op says the arrests were the result of illegal blockades that were put up around the refinery to stop the flow of traffic.
“Unifor continues to use illegal blockades as a bullying tactic and has brought in extra people to help them to it,” a statement released Wednesday said. “Today’s actions by Unifor represent yet another violation of the court injunction.”
The dispute between the two parties mainly comes down to pensions. A previous contract included a defined benefit pension for workers. Now the refinery is moving toward a defined contribution plan. The union says this amounts to taking away workers’ pensions. The refinery says it is trying to remain competitive.
In the Facebook video, Bray said he’s reached out to Unifor to organize a meeting with Dias.
“It is my hope that we’ll be able to have a face-to-face meeting with their president and representatives in the next couple of days and ultimately get an understanding of what our role is, and obviously, what their role is and what it is they’re hoping to accomplish,” Bray said.
He said the Regina Police Service’s main focus is community safety and to investigate allegations of criminal complaints, of which he said there are several.
Dias stressed Thursday that the only way the dispute will be resolved if if the two parties return to the bargaining table.
He said that on Tuesday night, Unifor told Co-op they would be willing to “remove and dramatically alter” preconditions the union had.
He said this was a condition that Co-op had put in place in order for the company to get back to the bargaining table.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Co-op confirmed it has been in discussions with the union about returning to the bargaining table. Co-op said it has always been willing to return to the table, but won’t if the blockades remain.
“The CRC has stated consistently that meaningful negotiations require Unifor to drop their pre-conditions regarding no changes to the pension plan,” the statement said.
“In light of Unifor’s escalation in the past week, and the Court of Queen’s Bench orders and the recent contempt of court ruling, the CRC believes Unifor should respect the court and comply with the court order regarding access to the refinery. The Company will not return to the bargaining table while Unifor maintains an illegal blockade.”
Unifor was fined $100,000 for actions on the picket line in December of 2019. Co-op says it’s pleased the union has been fined. Dias said the union will fight the ruling in court.