A six-month dispute between Unifor union workers and employer Co-op Refinery Complex has come to an end after the two parties ratified a tentative agreement.
Co-op Refinery workers went on strike in December 2019 over pension contributions. Federated Co-operatives Ltd (FCL), the federation of retail co-ops in Western Canada, which owns the complex, responded by locking 730 union workers out of the refinery. During this time the management team continued to operate the refinery. The co-op said the lockout was necessary to keep the site operational and protect fuel supplies to 170 local co-ops and their communities.
After months of negotiations, the workers and the co-op have struck a new collective agreement, which maintains the defined benefit pension plan and the company matched employee savings plan for existing workers. According to Unifor, Wage improvements in the new collective agreement match the National Pattern.
An earlier independent mediator’s report into the industrial dispute had been accepted by Unifor but rejected by FCL.
“Our members and their bargaining committee held firm throughout a difficult, protracted and often bitter negotiation process,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National president. “In the end we were successful in protecting their retirement security and in achieving the national wage pattern but this result could have been reached far earlier if the mediator recommendations had been enforced by Premier Scott Moe,” he added.
“We didn’t seek this work stoppage. Now that it’s finally been resolved our members are looking forward to returning to their jobs and getting back to work,” said Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman. “This was the first, and hopefully last, work stoppage in our local’s 78 years of faithfully providing the Co-op Refinery with our dedicated labour. It will be hard going back into the workplace for some of us, but we will do it with our heads held high because we stood in solidarity for one another. This has been the toughest period in our history, but we will be stronger because of it.”
“We are sincerely pleased that our employees are returning to work after more than six months off the job,” said Gil Le Dressay, vice-president, Refinery Operations. He added that while the labour disruption had been a difficult period for the business, the organisation would emerge from it stronger.
“The union has been our partner in fuelling Western Canada for more than 75 years, and they will be our partner for generations into the future.
“This deal is about competitiveness within the refining industry and long-term sustainability. It’s about ensuring that we continue to be an economic engine and that we provide good jobs for this city and this province for generations to come. Our industry is changing and we have only begun to see how new regulatory requirements and external pressures are going to shape our industry’s future. We all need to recognise that these changes are imminent. We are better off facing that future as partners as we work together to achieve our collective goals and interests,” he added.
Mr Le Dressay also thanked the local community and truckers for their continued support throughout the disruption.
“Finally, I want to thank our dedicated management team for leading us through these trying times. This team’s commitment to operating the refinery safely and efficiently, and to supplying fuel to Western Canadians, cannot be understated. They are a tremendous team, and we thank them all for their commitment to our company and to ensuring our long-term success,” he added.