After the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Prairies experienced untold hardship. Farmers saw grain prices fall to all time lows and they needed to lower their cost of production. Farmers in the Regina Plains area formed co-operatives to distribute petroleum in order to cut costs. The oil co-operatives were quite successful and began to cut into the market share of the two big oil companies: Imperial Oil and British American.
In April of 1934, Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries Limited (CCRL) was incorporated.
They set out to build a refinery.
On May 27th, 1935 the 500 barrel a day skimming plant went on stream.
The plant processed 6,095 gallons that first day and had to shut down during the first week because the tanks were full. The refinery made $253,000 in sales and earned $28,306 in the first year. Operations were seasonal. CCRL employed about 20 people. In 1936, CCRL and the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wholesale Society joined together to distribute refinery products to more communities.
In 1940, The Canadian Congress of Labour (CCL) was formed and began a massive organizing campaign. This caught the attention of the Co-op Refinery workers. In October 1942, a meeting was held in the Serbian Hall to vote to form a union. The vote was practically unanimous. The union became known as the Oil Workers’ Industrial Union, Local #1. The original executive consisted of our local was:
- Glenn Thompson (President),
- A. G. Roy (Vice-President),
- W. C. Smith (Treasurer),
- P. Husby (Recording-Secretary),
- T. Vellenoweth,
- E. Arnasan, and
- Grant Stephenson.
Later that same year, the first collective agreement was ratified. It contained wage increases, a seniority clause, a cost of living bonus and the establishment of overtime. The agreement covered all of the workers including the office personnel.
By 1942, refinery capacity was further increased to 2000 barrels per day and the operation was now year round.
On November 1, 1944, Saskatchewan Federated Co-operatives was formed in an amalgamation between Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries and the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wholesale Society. The refinery became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Saskatchewan Federated Co-operatives. This led to a separation of the distributive marketing division employees, office employees and the refinery oil workers. The petroleum marketing division and office employees formed the nucleus of the Wholesale, Retail, and Distributive Workers’ Union.
In 1946, Brother W. E. Adamson of the Canadian Congress of Labour proposed changes to the oil unions across the country so as to line up the oil unions for an international union. On February 14, 1947 the Oil Workers’ Industrial Union, Local #1 became known as the United Oil Workers of Canada, Local #3.
In 1948, there were about 5 different oil unions in Canada, and it was felt they would be best served under one international union.
On October 26, 1948 the Labour Relations Board officially recognized the Oil Workers International Union, Local #594.
Following this, the company-union relations deteriorated. The Company cancelled the contract completely and proposed a reduction in take-home pay by freezing the cost-of-living bonus at $25 (a lower amount than was in effect). After 6 months of negotiation, a strike vote was taken. A day before the expiration of the agreement, an interim agreement was reached. It was evident that the relationship between the company and the union had changed.
The petroleum marketing division employees applied to re-enter the refinery local. By this time they were known as Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, Local #540. The Labour Relations board ruled that these employees could join the Oil Workers Union and, on April 12, 1949, the Company indicated that they had no objection to transfer the Refinery Office employees from RWDSU Local #540, to the Oil Workers International Local #594.
By 1951, CCRL had expanded to 6,500 barrels per day and in August 1200 people attended a celebration to mark the event. Premier Tommy Douglas addressed the crowd. In 1955, Saskatchewan Federated Co-operatives united with the Manitoba Co-operative Wholesale Society to form Federated Co-operatives Limited.
The 50’s were the beginning of a wave of expansion for Consumer’s Co-operative Refineries Ltd. as sales increased and technology advanced. The members of Local 594 were kept busy with these expansions as well as a changing national union scene. Leading the way on the national front were members from Local 594: Neil Reimer and Ron Duncan. For the next four decades, Neil Reimer would go on to lead oil workers. He would become Local 594’s “first citizen”.
Neil Reimer started to work at CCRL on January 6, 1942 as a treater-operator in the process department. He became assistant-editor of the newsletter, The Conciliator. By 1950, Neil was the Union President and in 1951 he became a staff representative with the Oil Workers International Union in Edmonton. In 1954, Neil became the head of the Canadian arm of the Oil Workers International Union on recommendation of Bill Ingram, the Canadian representative on the international union executive. Bill was another member of Local 594. In 1955, Neil played a pivotal role in the amalgamation of the Oil Workers International Union and the United Gas, Coke and Chemical Workers Union. The new union was named the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union. Neil Reimer was the Canadian Director and remained so until 1963.
In 1960, CCRL celebrated its 25th anniversary.
In 1961, the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) Convention reduced the number of districts from 16 to 9. Local 16- 594 became Local 9-594. In 1963, Neil resigned as the Canadian Director of OCAW and was replaced on an interim basis by Ron Duncan. Ron worked at CCRL in the late 40’s and early 50’s in the Steam Plant. Ron became the Canadian Director, until 1967, when Neil Reimer replaced him. Neil remained as Canadian Director of OCAW until 1980.
In 1974, Bud Dahlstrom replaced Ben Pawson as Refinery Manager. Under Bud Dahlstrom, the refinery expanded by adding a Platforming Unit and a new Crude Unit. Capacity went to 55, 000 barrels per day.
Since 1980, there were more changes on the National Union front. In 1979, the OCAW Convention passed an amendment to their constitution that would allow the Canadian OCAW locals to move away and set up their own Canadian energy union. Neil Reimer played a huge part in this process as Canadian Director. Neil became the first National Director of the Energy and Chemical Workers Union in 1980. Local #594 added another charter to the office wall.
In 1984, CCRL celebrated it’s 50th anniversary. The event included tours and official celebrations. On October 19, 1985 sod was turned for a mega project, the Co-op Upgrader. This project was significant in that it secured a source of crude oil supply for CCRL and ensured the continuity of the plant. The plant has grown and is a part of Regina’s skyline.
In 1992 a merger of three large unions took place to form the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. This also marked the 50th Anniversary of Local #594 and we did not really celebrate the anniversary as we should have done. This was for several reasons. The merger with the Communication workers and Paperworkers unions was ongoing. The start-up of the Upgrader was plagued with operational problems. The relationship between the partners involved with the ownership of the Upgrader was souring. We were preparing for negotiations with the Company. These were difficult times that really tested the mettle of our union members.
On August 31, 2013, the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP), together with the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), formed a new union, Unifor. Unifor is Canada’s largest private sector union with more than 300,000 members in every major sector of the economy.