Saskatchewan

Unifor hosts rally in solidarity with Regina Co-op refinery workers

Unifor members from around Regina and the surrounding area gathered outside the Co-op refinery in the Queen City on Friday in support of their locked-out union brothers and sisters.

Roughly 800 Unifor Local 594 employees at the refinery were locked out at 5:30 p.m. CST Thursday

Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman addressed those who attended a solidarity rally outside the Co-op Refinery on Friday afternoon. (Ethan Williams/CBC)

Unifor members from around Regina and the surrounding area gathered outside the Co-op refinery in the Queen City on Friday in support of their locked out union brothers and sisters. 

Roughly 800 Unifor Local 594 employees at the refinery were locked out at 5:30 p.m. CST Thursday. In a news release sent that day, a refinery representative said employees were being locked out to ensure the facility's safe and reliable operation.

The union and the employer are battling over decreases to employee pensions, among other things, according to Local 594 president Kevin Bittman.

"It's massive," Bittman said. "We're talking, at 55 [years old], anywhere between four and 10 per cent decrease, and by the time you're at the age of 70, you're looking at 30 per cent roll backs in pension." 

Currently, most 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 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.

Bittman said the union was willing to go back to the negotiation table.

"We offered a compromise early in the [negotiation] process to say that we would be willing to go to defined contribution plans, but we said right from the start that it had to be a choice in switching," Bittman said. 

The refinery's statement said it is also willing to resume talks, but that the company will not alter its position around employees contributing to pension plans, a position it feels is a "fair approach" and matches industry standards.

Environment Canada forecasts indicate temperatures are supposed to drop to -17 on Sunday, but Bittman said refinery employees frequently work in the cold and aren't worried about being in the elements. 

With files from Ethan Williams

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