Saskatchewan

Regina Co-op refinery employees locked out by management

Approximately 800 unionized employees of Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex are now locked out, according to management.

Lockout started 48 hours after union issued strike notice

Changes to pension plans are a sticking point in negotiations. (Aldo Columpsi/CBC)

Approximately 800 unionized employees of Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex are now locked out.

A news release from refinery officials says the lockout is necessary to ensure safe operation at the plant.

The lockout, which started at 5:30 p.m., comes after refinery employees voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike last month. Unifor subsequently issued a 48-hour strike notice late Tuesday afternoon.

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594, expressed concern about employees who are filling in for workers who are on strike. He said many of the substitute employees had been shadowing their counterparts for the past few weeks to learn their jobs in preparation of job action. 

"They may be highly trained but not in the jobs they're going to be doing once we're locked out," he said. 

He called the job shadowing "uncomfortable" for the union's employees.

Unifor-represented employees at the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina are expected to be locked out at 5:30 p.m. CST Thursday. (CBC)

In a statement issued Tuesday after strike notice was given, refinery vice president of operations Gil Le Dressay, also expressed concerns about safety.

"A 48-hour strike notice creates an unsafe operating environment for the refinery," he said in the statement. "It is vital to the safety of our operation that we control the timeline of labour action."

No one from the refinery was available for an interview Thursday.

Public's safety could be at risk, says professor 

Sean Tucker, an occupational health and safety professor at the University of Regina, echoed Bittman's concerns about the inexperience of temporary workers and said fatigue could also add risk.

"If you're fatigued, you're not as sharp as you usually are," he said. "A combination of inexperience and fatigue with a situation that requires a quick response to lock things down, then you have added risk of a small incident getting larger."

Sean Tucker, an occupational health and safety professor at the University of Regina, believes a mixture of temporary employees and fatigue could pose a risk to the public. (Brian Rogers/CBC )

Tucker noted there are regulations in place to ensure the safety of employees and the public. He said inspectors from the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety have been instructed to visit the refinery to ensure compliance during the strike. 

He said future labour impasses need to be resolved in ways other than employees going on strike in order to ensure the community's safety.

Pension plans sticking point in negotiations 

Currently, Unifor employees of the refinery have a defined benefit pension plan. As part of the arrangement, employees don't have to contribute a portion of their salary to their pension. 

The refinery gave employees the choice of moving to a defined contribution pension plan, where they would contribute to their pensions, or staying with the defined benefit plan. The caveat of staying with that plan, the refinery said in a Dec. 3 news release, would be that employees would need to start contributing money to their plans.

"Most CRC [Co-op Refinery Complex] unionized workers, unlike most Canadians, have never had to contribute to their pension plan," said Le Dressay in the release. "Unfortunately, that just isn't sustainable any longer and we have to ask them to at least contribute to their plan."

Scott Doherty, the executive assistant to Unifor national president Jerry Dias, said he feels the company has the capacity to contribute to their employees' pension plans.

"This employer [made] $2.5 billion in the last three years," said Doherty. "There's no reason this employer can't afford to continue to make the pension contributions that it does." 

About the Author

Ethan Williams

Associate Producer

Ethan Williams is an Associate Producer and show director with CBC Saskatchewan, primarily assigned to The Afternoon Edition. Get in touch with him: ethan.williams@cbc.ca

With files from Radio-Canada and Bonnie Allen

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now