Saskatchewan

Unifor president Jerry Dias arrested at Regina's Co-op Refinery

Unifor national president Jerry Dias was arrested along with six other members of the union on Monday afternoon amid rising tensions in a dispute with the Co-op Refinery in Regina. 

Union head among 7 taken into custody on picket line, police confirm

Unifor president Jerry Dias, left, and the union's lead negotiator Scott Doherty. Dias was taken into custody by police on Monday amid a labour dispute at the Co-op Refinery in Regina. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Unifor national president Jerry Dias was arrested along with six other members of the union on Monday afternoon amid rising tensions in a dispute with the Co-op Refinery in Regina. 

Unifor 594 represents about 800 employees at the oil refinery. The arrests came after Unifor members set up blockades to prevent the flow of traffic in and out of the facility.

"Unifor members had completely blocked the entrances/exits to the Co-op Refinery Complex, not allowing vehicles to enter or exit the property," the Regina Police Service said in a statement. 

The blockades were taken down Monday evening. 

A court injunction issued in December stated that picketers could block someone's access to the refinery for no more than 10 minutes and only to provide information on the union's cause. It also said that anyone who declined to hear the information should be let through.

'Not violating any injunction'

Dias said at a media conference Monday morning that the blockades were set up by members of other Unifor locals. He argued that they therefore did not violate the injunction.

"We'll deal with that in court because our argument today is that we are not violating any injunction at all," Dias said. 

Dias, on Twitter, later accused the police of picking sides, and called for more Unifor members to travel to Regina in solidarity.

Police did not confirm who else was arrested or if any charges were laid. 

Monday marked 46 days since Unifor members were locked out on Dec. 5.

Trying to stay competitive

The dispute mainly comes down to pensions. A previous deal 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. 

"We are going to guarantee you that not one fuel truck is going to leave this facility. From now on we're not going anywhere," Scott Doherty, Unifor's lead negotiator and executive assistant to the president, said.

The refinery said in a statement that the blockades were illegal and that it is exploring legal options. 

"Unifor continues to use illegal blockades as a bullying tactic and has brought in extra people to help them to it," the statement said. "Today's actions by Unifor represent yet another violation of the court injunction."

Regina police said they were monitoring the situation. In a statement, police said they were communicating with both sides to keep the peace and advising motorists to avoid the area of Ninth Avenue N., MacDonald Street and Fleet Street.

Police took Unifor members into custody after the union constructed blockades at the refinery. (Unifor/Twitter)

Before his arrest, Dias estimated that about 500 people were brought in from across Canada to Regina and said more are expected. Dias said the union also plans to increase the boycott of Co-ops across Western Canada if a deal isn't made. 

"Clearly the only place that this dispute will be resolved will be at the bargaining table," Dias said. 

The refinery previously said Unifor hasn't returned to the bargaining table since September 2019. 

Police said they are monitoring the situation and advising motorists to avoid the area. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

A video showing a large flare at the Co-op Refinery on Saturday has been circulating on social media. 

The refinery said in a statement that the facility momentarily lost power from SaskPower. As a result, some units came down at the same time.

'Always prepared'

"The flare system did the job it is designed to do in that situation. Power was restored within a minute of the incident, and our highly skilled management team brought the refinery units back online per normal operating procedures," the refinery said in a statement.

"Power failures happen occasionally, and our team is always prepared for an emergent scenario such as this."

Dias said flare-ups happen when replacement workers without proper experience are running a plant. 

"We're hoping that the safety concerns are being addressed," Dias said. "We're hoping that the facility is just being taken care of properly, from a maintenance point of view. But ultimately we're not in control of that today. We wish we were but we are not."

Unifor is Canada's largest private-sector union, with around 310,000 members.

About the Author

Heidi Atter

AP/Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

With files from Radio-Canada's Charles Lalande

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