Unifor promises to 'escalate' actions as Regina Co-op refinery lockout stretches into 2nd month

A few dozen locked-out Co-op refinery workers stood with supporters for a noon rally Tuesday, with Unifor leadership vowing to escalate its actions in response to the lockout, which has now lasted 34 days.

Union says it will 'shine a bright light' on replacement workers

Locked-out Co-op refinery workers picket outside the east side of the facility on Tuesday. The union representing more than 700 employees at the refinery has asked members from outside the province to join Regina workers on the picket lines. (Adam Hunter/CBC)

A few dozen locked-out Co-op refinery workers stood with supporters for a noon rally in Regina on Tuesday, as Unifor leadership vowed to escalate actions in response to the lockout, which has now lasted 34 days.

"The contempt they are exhibiting for our members and their families will not going unchallenged," said Lana Payne, national secretary-treasurer for the union.

"I'm not going to tell everybody what we are going to do to escalate, but we have ways to make sure the message gets out," said Scott Doherty, Unifor's lead negotiator and executive assistant to the president.

About 720 unionized employees of Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex have been locked out since Dec. 5, after refinery employees voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike in November. The dispute between workers and refinery management has mostly been over changes to employees' pension plans.

Neither Payne or Doherty would get into specifics Tuesday about what constituted escalation, but both made reference to the replacement workers who are inside the Co-op refinery, doing the jobs of the locked-out employees.

"We will be shining a very bright light on the scab labour being employed by this company. Stay tuned for that, because this is union-busting," Payne said.

"I think you can see what we've done in the past. We are going to make sure people know scabs aren't welcome," said Doherty.

In September 2018, Unifor Canada identified, by name and photo, seven replacement workers who crossed the picket line at D-J Composites in Gander, N.L. Employees there had been locked out for two years before the issue was settled.

Payne was Unifor's Atlantic region director at the time.

On Dec. 7, Doherty tweeted the 2018 video identifying the replacement workers in Gander, which Unifor titled "Meet the Scabs."

More members expected to join lines: Unifor

Doherty said he reached out to the negotiator for Federated Co-operatives Limited, which owns the refinery, to see if the two sides could get back to the table without concessions from the union. He said he had yet to hear back.

Unifor put a call out on Tuesday to union members from across Canada to come to Regina and join the lines.

"We're going to bring hundreds of people here," Doherty said.

The union started a "Boycott Co-op" campaign and said secondary picketing would continue in B.C., Alberta and Manitoba, and will begin in Ontario.

Doherty said Co-op is running ads referring to workers as on strike, when they were locked out, which he said "shows how totally disrespectful this employer is."

CBC/Radio-Canada contacted Co-op refinery officials for comment on Tuesday, but has not received a response.

Prior to the lockout, Federated Co-operatives Limited gave refinery employees the choice of moving to a defined contribution pension plan, or staying with the existing 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.

The union said that caveat would need to disappear in order for it to come back to the negotiating table.

With files from Ethan Williams


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