Saskatchewan

Unifor fences off fuel centre in latest job action escalation

Unifor fenced off a fuel centre in Regina Friday, the day after a union-produced video identifying replacement workers at the Co-op refinery was posted online. The actions are the latest escalations in a labour dispute that has now stretched on more than a month.

On Thursday, Unifor posted a 'Meet the Scabs' video identifying replacement workers at Regina Co-op refinery

Unifor fenced off a fuel and propane station in Northeast Regina on Friday as part of escalating job action. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Unifor fenced off a fuel centre in Regina Friday, the day after a union-produced video identifying replacement workers at the Co-op refinery was posted online.

The actions are the latest escalations in a labour dispute that has now stretched on more than a month.

About 700 workers from the Co-op refinery were locked out in early December. At a news conference Tuesday, the union said it would escalate job action.

On Friday at 4 a.m. CST, union members started fencing off a fuel and propane station in northeast Regina. Unifor said the decision was made after the union asked the company to return to the bargaining and the company did not want to take concessions off the table. 

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor local 594, was on the picket line Friday.

"They've locked us out of our employment, so today FCL [Federated Co-operatives Limited] employees aren't going into their work," he said.

Kevin Bittman said Unifor members will be on the picket line outside a fuel and propane station in Northeast Regina for weeks to come. (Heidi Atter/CBC)
Unifor members walked a fenced off picket line in Northeast Regina on Friday. The fences were put up overnight as part of escalating job action. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Bittman said any employees inside were allowed to leave and that the union talked to the fire marshalls and opened some gates for emergency vehicles only.

The Co-op Refinery Complex said in a statement the blockades puts public safety at risk. The refinery said the site has large amounts of fuel and propane, and the distribution is critical to heat homes and livestock and construction sites.

It's always possible Unifor could be hit with another injunction, Bittman said.

"The legal system is there for a reason and if somebody has a problem with what we're doing, or think it's illegal, that's the avenue they have to go in," he said.

Bittman said he is not sure if the fences are legal. He said they have a right to picket and that is what they are doing. 

The union said they would not prevent emergency vehicles from entering the site they had fenced off. The site included the Co-op Regina offices. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

'Meet the Scabs' video posted on social media

On Thursday, Unifor posted a video, titled Meet the Scabs, on its Twitter page. The video names and shows images of about a dozen people. As of Friday morning it had more than 26,000 views.

Some photographs appeared to be taken off of social media while others were photographs of people arriving or at their work. Each person is labelled 'Scab at Co-op Refinery.' 

The union said previously that it would "shine a bright light" on replacement workers in Regina. Unifor made a similar video in Gander, Newfoundland during a labour dispute there. 

Scott Doherty, Unifor's lead negotiator and executive assistant to the president, said that being a replacement worker does not grant a person privacy.

"We believe we have the right to do it," Doherty said. "I think people knew that we were at some point in time going to do this."

The Co-op Refinery Complex said in a release that the video was "disgusting" and that it was disappointed but not surprised by the release of the video. 

"[Replacement workers] do not deserve to be treated this way. Unifor's behaviour and these tactics are not acceptable," Gil Le Dressay, vice president of refinery operations, said in a release. 

The Refinery said they were not surprised by the Unifor tactic to release a video called 'Meet the Scabs' and instead said it was "not acceptable." (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Le Dressay said the refinery will protect the safety and well-being of people in the video. 

"It is abundantly clear that Unifor's Toronto-based leadership have no respect for anyone but themselves and that their tactics are not in line with Canadian values," the release said. 

Doherty said he believes Unifor members are still getting support from the public, even when some people don't like what they are doing. 

"Frankly scabs should really think twice about whether or not it's worthwhile for them to take the jobs of somebody who has been disrespected by their employer — as these individuals have," he said. 

Bittman said the union is not putting people's safety at risk by identifying replacement workings.

"There's lots of work out there. They don't need to be going inside and doing that," he said. 

Bittman says his members aren't feeling any pressure to stop picketing. 

"The members are solid. I'm up and down the lines every day and they're 100 per cent on board," he said. "We're not being greedy and they just need to put a fair deal on the table."

With files from Thomas Gagnet

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