REGINA, Sask. – A truck convoy protesting the illegal barricades surrounding Regina’s Co-op Refinery Complex went off Thursday, but it was not without a few hitches.
Coordinated by C.S. Day Transport, one of the main carriers that transports fuel in and out of the refinery, more than 80 trucks drove through the downtown Regina, Sask., Feb. 6, demanding the removal of barricades around the refinery, which were erected by Unifor union members as a labor dispute rages between them and Federated Co-operatives Ltd. (FCL).
Heather Day, president of C.S. Day Transport, indicated early that morning that eight trucks and drivers were locked inside the barricade since around 3 a.m. when police temporarily opened the blockade. Some of the drivers were scheduled to speak at a press conference that day set to take place at 10 a.m. outside city hall.
Day said the convoy would still go ahead, and lauded drivers for attempting entering the complex to get fuel.
“Our drivers have hearts of gold to go charging in to try to get fuel out to the communities that desperately need it,” she said.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., the majority of the drivers were released from inside the barricade.
Union members have been accused of using several tactics to disrupt business and truck traffic at the refinery and other Co-op locations, including blocking cardlock locations, vandalizing trucks, and harassing drivers, all going against a December court order that stipulated picketers could not retain drivers going in and out of the complex for more than five minutes.
“We respect the union’s right to picket, share information and disrupt our normal course of business within the bounds set by the courts,” said Vic Huard, FCL’s executive vice-president of customer experience and stakeholder engagement. “But Unifor’s use of blockades and disregard for the rule of law go beyond peaceful picketing.”
Regina Police Services (RPS) closed off 9th Ave. North between Winnipeg St. and McDonald St. to pedestrians in order to remove the barricade surrounding the Co-op Refinery. It was reopened to pedestrians the following day around 9 p.m., allowing picketers to return to the gates of the complex.
Picketers are legally permitted to enter the area on foot and can carry signs, flags, informational material, and food, but cannot enter with any material that could be used to construct another barrier.
Unifor lambasted RPS during the barricade removal for what it said was denying lawful picketing at the Co-op Refinery.
“First FCL locks workers out in the dead of winter, then the Regina police take away their right to picket, but also make sure to cruelly take away the picketers’ limited access to warming shelters and washroom facilities,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president. “No judge ruled to freeze out the picketers and refuse to allow them to go to the bathroom. The Regina Police Service has taken the law into their own hands.”
The union went on to accuse RPS of escalating tensions on day 64 of the lockout, while it called on Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and FCL to grant an independent provincially-appointed mediator the power to arbitrate if the two disputing parties cannot reach an agreement after seven days.
“A clear negotiation deadline followed by binding arbitration is the only guaranteed way to end this dispute,” said Dias. “If FCL is at all serious about wanting to resolve this and restore service to their customers they would agree.”
FCL CEO Scott Banda, however, said binding arbitration is not the way to go, and real bargaining is what is needed.
“Setting arbitrary deadlines and repeating requests for binding arbitration that have already been declined by both FCL and the provincial government are not going to get us any closer to a deal that keeps the refinery sustainable,” said Banda. “We need to have real discussions on complex issues and we need to have them without the threat of illegal blockades.”
Banda went on to say that FCL will return to the bargaining table as soon as Unifor ends its illegal activities and blockades as stipulated by court injunctions.
“Unifor has not bargained meaningfully with us—why would we expect them to bargain in good faith in seven days,” said Banda. “The last time we attempted to bargain in January, they folded their arms and proceeded to bring back their illegal blockades.”
Barricades have also been placed around Co-op’s fuel distribution terminal in Carseland, Alta. A court order requiring Unifor remove the blockade was issued Feb. 6. The barrier was eventually removed by union members at approximately noon on Feb. 9.
Trucks line up unable to enter Carseland Co-op cardlock location.
Ongoing since Dec. 5, the dispute has also spurred reaction from the Saskatchewan Trucking Association (STA).
“Trucking companies and their drivers do not make money if the wheels are not turning. These are private companies and STA members that haul for Co-op and locking them down is having a negative impact,” said STA executive president Susan Ewart. “There are rules about how long drivers can be on duty. As they sit on the side of the road, the hours in which they can earn an income tick away. There is no wiggle room here, once they are out of time, they are out of time and done for the day.”
With 26 independent fleets hauling products for the refinery, the STA has urged everyone to respect all workers, saying the trucking industry plays a critical role in the economy and drivers are worthy of respect.