Co-op rejects mediator’s recommendations on lockout

Unifor has agreed to a mediator’s recommendations in an effort to end the work stoppage at the Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC). But Federated Co-op has rejected those recommendations.

On Sunday, March 22, the CRC posted the following statement:

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Unifor accepts a mediator’s recommendations to end refinery job action if Co-op accepts, too

“The Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) would like to thank special mediators Amanda Rogers and Vince Ready for their time and effort in meeting with us, thoughtfully considering both parties' positions and preparing their report and recommendations.

“In carefully analyzing the report, the CRC has determined it is unable to accept all aspects of the report's recommendations in their entirety and will need to make modifications out of our responsibility to our employees, our co-op owners, our customers and the broader communities that depend on the long-term sustainability of the CRC.

“That said, the report does contain a number of helpful recommendations, which the CRC hopes will stand to move negotiations toward a resolution and a signed deal with Unifor 594.

“We must now also consider the stark world developments that are presently unfolding and their impacts to both our business reality and our ever-more critical responsibility to our multiple stakeholders. Global economic circumstances have changed, and with that, we have seen a drastic decline in the consumer consumption of fuel and rapidly declining oil prices that have put the CRC in a more difficult financial position than when negotiations began.

“Like all businesses, the refinery is now reassessing how to manage through the financial turmoil. As a company, we must consider how to reduce costs, delay capital spending, protect jobs and make decisions around cancelling projects that are no longer viable. As negotiations proceed, the CRC will ultimately need to make decisions that are responsible and responsive not only to its employees but also to our local co-op owners, customers and the broader communities across Western Canada.

“The CRC continues to be committed to reaching a fair deal and will be presenting the Unifor 594 membership with an offer in the coming days.”

Unifor responded in a tweet, saying they thought it was a shocking decision from FCL. They accused FCL of using the COVID-19 pandemic to reject a report that would have ended the 108-day lockout.

Late last week, Unifor said its bargaining committee had accepted the agreement and would encourage its members to accept the deal.

“To be clear, our committee is not thrilled with the final report and the significant changes that are recommended,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president. “We have been trying to find a solution since we were locked out on December 5, 2019. It is time to end this dispute and have our members running the refinery in these unprecedented times.”

Independent mediator Vince Ready presented several comprehensive recommendations on March 19, covering the most contentious issues that caused the bargaining impasse between Unifor and Co-op Refinery. Changes to refinery workers’ pension plan are at the heart of Ready’s final report to the provincial government.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and life for everyone grows more uncertain with each passing day. We all need some sense of stability back in our lives and this deal provides exactly that. This deal should end this dispute, as it gives the company what they said they needed. We are urging the company to accept the special mediator's recommendations as we have. Anything less would be irresponsible,” said Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594.

Three days earlier, Co-op announced it was deferring its spring turnaround until at least May 15. It had been scheduled the beginning of April.

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