Saskatchewan

Unifor Refinery workers vote 98% to accept mediator recommendations: union

Unifor Local 594 members have voted in favour of accepting the recommendations made by a government appointed mediator in the long-running dispute with Federated Co-operatives Limited, which operates the Co-op Refinery Complex.

Unifor made the announcement on Monday night

Unifor members were locked out from the Co-op Refinery Complex on Dec. 5, 2019, two days after issuing a 48-hour strike notice. (Morgan Modjeski/CBC)

Unifor said 98 per cent of its Unifor Local 594 members have voted in favour of accepting the recommendations by a government appointed mediator. 

Unifor 594 represents about 800 employees at the Co-op Refinery Complex. The workers were locked out on Dec. 5, 2019 after issuing a 48-hour strike notice on December 3. 

The union said last Thursday that it "reluctantly" agreed to the terms recommended by the provincial mediator, Vince Ready. Ready had been appointed by the Government of Saskatchewan to recommend a way to end the long labour dispute. 

On Monday night it announced the result of its member vote. 

Originally, Unifor requested the mediation process to be binding, however it was not. 

Federated Co-operatives Limited, which operates the Co-op Refinery Complex, said in a statement on Sunday that it could not accept the recommendations in full

A statement posted to Co-op Refinery Complex social media pages cited "stark world developments" and changing global economic circumstances which have resulted in declines in oil demand and oil prices.

"Our inability to accept the report in full stems from our responsibility to you – our employees, our local co-op owners, our customers, and the broader communities that depend on a long-term, sustainable future for our Refinery," the statement said. 

Unifor said FCL is using the COVID-19 pandemic as an "excuse to try and leverage even more concessions." 

Vince Ready is a mediator appointed by the province. His full report came out over the weekend. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

In the months since the lockout began, the union has picketed and set up blockades at the refinery property, resulting in in court disputes and arrests involving national and local union leaders and members.  

The major sticking point in the dispute is pension contributions. 

Before the lockout began, FCL proposed allowing employees to keep their defined benefit plan if they started making payments into their pension, among other changes. At that time, the union rejected it. 

The special mediator's report called for employees currently enrolled in the defined benefit plan to start contributing four per cent of their average earnings into their pension plans upon ratification of a contract, then eight per cent beginning in February of 2022.

Now, the union is continuing its call for legislation to end the lockout. The Refinery said in its previous statement that they will be presenting the union with an offer in the coming days.

With files from Bryan Eneas

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