Saskatoon

Union president stepping down after leading Regina Co-op refinery workers during bitter 6-month lockout

The bitter, six-month lockout at Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex is over, but the facility's 730 unionized workers will have to head back to work with a new leader.

More than 700 Unifor Local 594 members recently ratified a new seven-year contract

Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman said in a letter to members that he's stepping down to spend more time with his family. (Brian Rogers/CBC)

The bitter, six-month lockout at Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex is over, but the facility's 730 unionized workers will have to head back to work with a new leader.

In a letter sent to union members Tuesday, Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman said he is leaving his job. He thanked the workers for their determination and unity.

"This lockout tested us in every way, "Bittman said. "We held our own and stuck together."

Bittman said he doesn't feel respected by the employer and doesn't think that damage can be repaired.

"It is imperative that the healing process happens so everyone can finish their career in a plant that does not include a toxic atmosphere. I do not feel that can happen with me in the picture," he said.

The six-month lockout at the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina has ended. Workers voted nearly 90 per cent in favour of a new seven-year agreement. (Aldo Columpsi/CBC)

Bittman said in the letter he intends to spend more time with his family. Neither he nor Unifor officials could be reached Tuesday.

University of Saskatchewan sociology professor Michael Gertler said Bittman's resignation is not a surprise.

"I certainly understand the stresses he's been under, or put it this way: I can begin to imagine the stresses he and his family have been under. Tremendous stress. Maybe he's taking a break and wants to get a fresh start. I wouldn't blame him," said Gertler, who also teaches at the U of S Canadian Centre for the Study of Co-operatives.

University of Saskatchewan professor Michael Gertler said all sides were under tremendous pressure during the six-month lockout at Regina's Co-op Refinery Complex, but negotiators were likely feeling even more stress. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Shelagh Campbell, who specializes in industrial relations at the University of Regina's Hill School of Business, said the dispute took a toll on everyone involved, but a union head faces additional pressure that comes from dealing with the employer, fellow members, the media and other interests.

"It's not unreasonable that all of those members have been under stress. Mr. Bittman of course is the public face. It's understandable that he's had additional pressures on him," Campbell said.

The two sides say the new deal will last seven years. Full terms were not disclosed, but 89 per cent of Unifor members voted in favour.

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