Unifor was disappointed to watch new scab trailers arrive at the Co-op Refinery on Friday, February 14. The trailers’ arrival comes just one day after Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) agreed to begin talks with assistance of a provincially-appointed mediator to end the 11-week lockout.
“We have a great deal of confidence in mediator Vince Ready but our experience with FCL gives us little confidence this employer is willing to bargain,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. “We’ve seen too many tactics to prolong this dispute, but we will proceed in good faith and hope the mediation process will be a turning point.”
The start of FCL’s bad faith actions goes back to the construction of scab housing camps on refinery property during bargaining in the Spring of 2019. Negotiations broke down quickly when the company demanded massive concessions to the pension plan it promised to protect just three years earlier. On December 5, the company locked out more than 730 members of Local 594.
During the dispute, FCL has relied on police to force supplies through picket lines and has benefitted from a largely invisible premier, says Dias.
“What incentive has FCL had to bargain? Police are doing their dirty work and the profits Unifor members have helped generate are being turned against them,” said Dias.
It was only after aggressive policing that included the arrest of Unifor’s National President did Unifor escalate to secondary pickets and enhanced onsite picket lines with activists from across the country.
When FCL re-joined Unifor at the bargaining table briefly last month, it brought a long list of new concessions.
Local 594 President Kevin Bittman says the tactics deployed by the employer during bargaining and now during the lockout have shown the true colours of FCL CEO Scott Banda and his allies on the FCL board of directors.
“Imagine how our members felt, locked out in frigid weather for ten weeks now and they have to move aside for new trailers to house the scabs who are stealing their wages?” said Kevin Bittman, President of Unifor Local 594. “We just hope Premier Scott Moe is also watching and can appreciate what we are dealing with.”
Bittman says that if mediation fails, there is still another important tool at the premier’s disposal: binding arbitration.
Unlike mediated talks, parties to binding arbitration are bound by the proposals of an independent arbitrator. Binding arbitration raises the stakes for stubborn employers to bargain a resolution of their choosing, rather than being saddled with what an arbitrator decides is final.
Although it is not Unifor’s first choice to resolve difficult negotiations, binding arbitration is commonly used as the last resort in extended labour disputes that don’t otherwise have a hope of being resolved.
Under conservative premier Brian Pallister in Manitoba, the Labour Relations Act calls for binding arbitration after a dispute has gone on for longer than 60 days.
“It’s time to stop letting Co-op off the hook. Binding arbitration must be considered if mediation fails this month,” said Dias.