Saskatchewan

Unifor workers rally, ask Sask. government to legislate them back to work

On the first day of a three-week sitting of the legislative assembly, locked out Co-op refinery workers staged a rally outside and asked the Premier to legislate an end to the over six-month labour dispute.

Union promises to rally in front of legislature for every day of the current sitting

Unifor members rally in front of the legislative building in Regina in hopes of convincing the Saskatchewan government to force an end to the labour dispute at the Co-op Refinery Complex. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Unifor is asking the Moe government to pass legislation to force an end to the labour dispute at Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex over the next three weeks.

Locked-out workers staged a rally outside of the legislative building where a three-week sitting of the legislative assembly kicked off Monday.

Earlier in the day, Unifor Local 594 President Kevin Bittman posted a letter to Premier Scott Moe on social media.

"I understand your government's hesitation to pass legislation to end a private sector dispute, but it's the right thing to do for all parties involved and the only way this lockout ends," Bittman said.

He said, ideally, government would not get involved in labour disputes.

"But this lockout is unparalleled in many ways," he said. "These unprecedented events require your unprecedented action."

During Monday's Question Period, NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the Premier must act to end the labour dispute, noting it has now lasted over six months.

Labour Relations Minister Don Morgan said the government wants a deal made at the table and "not negotiated on the floor of the assembly."

Morgan said it would set a bad precedent to have politicians intervene in labour negotiation and encouraged both sides to get back to the table.

'Very different situations'

Meili said Moe wanted CN workers legislated back to work by the federal government before a deal was reached.

When speaking with reporters later, Moe said the two labour disruptions are "very different situations."

He said the supply of fuel has continued to flow into Saskatchewan communities — but in the case of the rail dispute, well over half of the province's exports leave Saskatchewan by train.

"It is absolutely an essential service here for the province of Saskatchewan," he said. "It is one that we are just not able to do without."

Moe said the dispute has gone on "far too long" and he "feels for each and every one of the members and their families" — but said it's a private sector labour dispute.

"And in private sector labour issues, the best deals come from the negotiating table," he said.

In February, the province appointed a special mediator who met with both sides and came up with recommendations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Unifor members voted 98 per cent in favour of the recommendations. The union wants the government to take the mediator's suggestions and sign them into law.

In April, locked-out Co-op refinery workers voted down what Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) called its "best and final offer."

The union said 89 per cent of its members voted against the offer and the company has since rejected two of its counter-proposals.

On Twitter, Unifor Local 594 said its members would be rallying in front of the legislative building every day for as long as the legislative assembly was in session.

Over 700 workers have been locked out for 194 days.

With files from Adam Hunter and Brian Rodgers

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