Federated Co-operative rejects mediator’s report in refinery strike

The months-long pensions dispute at the site, in Regina, Saskatchewan, drags on despite the Covid-19 crisis

Canada’s Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) has rejected an independent mediator’s report into the industrial dispute at its Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) in Regina, Saskatchewan.

The dispute with members of the union Unifor 594, over changes to its pension scheme, has dragged on for months, with union workers locked out of the site and supporters mounting a boycott of the co-op.

(CRC) announced its decision on March 22, two days after Unifor 594 said it had accepted the mediator’s recommendations and was prepared to head back to the table. 

The union said it had some reservations but was ready to consider a solution in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To be clear, our committee is not thrilled with the final report and the significant changes that are recommended,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We have been trying to find a solution since we were locked out on December 5, 2019. It is time to end this dispute and have our members running the refinery in these unprecedented times.”

But CRC said that it was “unable to accept all aspects of the report’s recommendations in their entirety and will need to make modifications.”

Related: Canadian farmers back workers in refinery dispute

A “drastic decline in the consumer consumption of fuel and rapidly declining oil prices that” during the Covid-19 pandemic have hit Federated Co-op’s finances and it says negotiations now reflect a need to reduce costs and protect jobs. 

It said it would have to “make modifications out of our responsibility to our employees, our co-op owners, our customers and the broader communities that depend on the long-term sustainability of CRC.

“As a company, we must consider how to reduce costs, delay capital spending, protect jobs and make decisions around cancelling projects that are no longer viable.

“As negotiations proceed, CRC will ultimately need to make decisions that are responsible and responsive not only to its employees but also to our local co-op owners, customers and the broader communities across Western Canada.”

CRC said it will forward an offer to the Unifor workers in the coming days. 

Unifor said it was “shocked” by the decision, accusing FCL of using the Covid-19 crisis as “bargaining leverage”. It has also voiced concern over whether adequate social distancing measures are in place for replacement workers, and is now making a formal request for intervention from the provincial government.