Locked out workers at Federated Co-op fighting for fair share

Union urges boycott of all Co-op brands

When the 800 members of Unifor Local 594 are working inside the Co-op Refinery in Regina, Federated Co-op Limited (FCL) makes $3 million a day. In fact, FCL makes 75% of its total revenue from the refinery, and the union has calculated that the corporation has made nearly $3 billion since 2016.

But since December 5, the hugely profitable corporation has locked out the workers because they refuse to accept concessions to their pension and overall compensation. FCL has purchased billboards telling the public that the union is on strike – a blatant lie.

The corporation is also claiming that the workers are seeking enormous wage increases that threaten the sustainability of the refinery. According to the Local 594 website, however, the real story is very different:

“While Co-op’s offer to increase our wages by 11.75% may sound impressive, it is not special. 80% of workers in the energy sector have gotten the same increase as part of what’s called the National Pattern. Co-op Refinery is merely doing what was agreed to by companies across this sector.

“The Truth: This is only an illusion of a raise. Based on the other parts of Co-op’s offer, we would wind up paying out of pocket for this standardized wage increase. Why? Because Co-op wants us to go backwards on pensions by paying 11%, plus a 6.5% savings plan elimination equalling a 17.5% decrease in pay. So, with the wage increase being 2.5% in the first year, we would have to give up other forms of pay to the tune of $15,000-$20,000 to get it. The remaining 9.25% of the wage increase over the next three years would not make up for that giant leap backwards we would have to take in other ways.”

“Sustainability”concerns? FCL’s corporate report suggests otherwise.

 

FCL started negotiations by insisting that the existing defined benefit (DB) pension be replaced by a defined contribution (DC) version. The former provides a steady and predetermined level of income – based on the deferred wages that are pension contributions – while the latter is a type of RSP, with contributions completely at the mercy of the market and providing unpredictable income. The union forced this option off the bargaining table, but FCL returned with a DB package that was a gutted shell of what the workers have had since 1979.

Union members responded with a 97% strike vote on December 3, and the corporation locked them out two days later.

FCL is keeping the refinery open with scabs it is bringing in by helicopter, putting plant and public safety at risk by operating with a smaller group of underqualified replacement workers. Shamefully, some of the scabs are retired union members who have chosen to cross their own comrades’ picket line while continuing to collect their pension. As the union asks, “One can’t even imagine the twisted thought processes that must go on to justify these immoral, unethical acts to oneself. While they are hypocrites, they are best known as Super Scabs.”

But the members of Local 594 aren’t giving up, and they are taking this struggle to a bigger arena. Unifor is asking people to boycott the local co-ops that own Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) until the lock out has ended and workers receive a fair contract with no concessions to their pension plan. Not all co-ops in Canada are part of the FCL network – Co-op taxi companies operating in several areas and the Pincher Creek Co-Op in Pincher Creek, Alberta are not on the Unifor boycott list. A full list of the boycotted co-ops is available at boycottco-op.ca.


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