After the Stock Market Crash of 1929 the Prairies experienced untold hardship. The situation was further worsened by years of drought and insect plagues. Farmers saw grain prices fall to all time lows and they needed to lower their cost of production. Farmers who farmed with tractors were faced with high petroleum prices that kept rising and it became apparent that if they were to continue to operate the price of petroleum must be reduced.
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 gallonage of the two big oil companies, Imperial Oil and British American.
Duties were imposed on imported petroleum from the US and the added effect of consolidation of companies in the petroleum industry, raised the wholesale price of petroleum products. In order for the oil co-ops to survive, it was decided to explore the feasibility of building their own Co-op Refinery. Meetings were held and committees were set up. Money was raised and in April of 1934, Consumers’ Co-operative Refineries Limited 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. In its first year of operation, the refinery made $253,000 in sales and earned $28,306. The operation was seasonal, as there were no sales for a full years operation. It employed about 20 people. In 1936, CCRL entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Co-operative Wholesale Society, whereby they would act as a broker for refinery products. Harry Fowler was the Secretary of CCRL and he was instrumental in its formation. He later became the President of Federated Co-operatives in 1959.
O.B. Males was a Texan who had worked at the Sterling Oil refinery in Moose Jaw until it was bought by British American Oil. He was unable to come to terms with them and after a stint with the Hi-Way oil group, he was asked to design the plans for the Co-op Refinery. He later became the first Refinery Superintendent until 1948, when he became ill. He then did some planning for a “second Co-operative refinery”.
In 1940 the plant had been expanded to 1500 barrels a day with the addition of a thermal cracking unit and the operation was now year round. By 1942, the capacity was further increased to 2000 barrels per day. As the war was raging in Europe, labour became more scarce and this resulted in a renewed movement for the organization of workers. In 1940 the Canadian Congress of Labour was formed in a merger of the All Canadian Congress of Labour and some unions from the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The Congress of Industrial Organizations was a union that had attracted oil workers in the US. There was a massive organizing campaign sponsored by the CCL and this caught the attention of the Co-op refinery workers. They were also discouraged with the way that the Labour-Management committee functioned and felt that it was not very effective.
In October of 1942, a meeting was held in the Serbian Hall to conduct a vote form a union. The vote was practically unanimous. Brother Emon Park of the Canadian Congress of Labour helped with the organization of the union. The original executive consisted of Glenn Thompson (President), A.G.Roy (Vice-President), W.C. Smith (Treasurer), P. Husby (Recording-Secretary). Trustees were T. Vellenoweth, E. Arnasan and Grant Stephenson. The union became known as the Oil Workers’ Industrial Union, Local #1.
For the Oil Workers Industrial Union, Local #1, the remainder of the decade was to be one of change and transition. The tide of union organization that began in 1940 continued for the rest of the decade.
The Union did not have to fight for recognition with CCRL. On December 1, 1942 the first collective agreement was concluded. 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. A Stillman in the Process Department earned $180-200/month. The agreement did not contain a management rights clause.
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. This union represented co-operative workers in Saskatoon and at the Outlook Flour Mill. In 1946, they jointly bargained with the Oil Workers Industrial Union to form a master agreement. The results of the bargaining were not satisfactory to the oil workers, and they voted to negotiate separately the following year.
In 1946, Brother W. E. Adamson of the Canadian Congress of Labour proposed nomenclature 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 Brother Pat Conroy of the CCL, wrote to the United Oil Workers of Canada, Local #3, stating that the Oil Workers International Union from the U.S. should take over the oil unions in Canada. At the time there were about 5 different oil unions in Canada, and it was felt they would be best served under one international union. On July 12, 1948 the membership voted to affiliate with the Oil Workers 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 complete contract and proposed a reduction in take-home pay by freezing the cost-of-living bonus at $25 (a lower amount than was in effect). Negotiations took place for 5 to 6 months. The Company applied for conciliation to the Minister of Labour. The oil workers would only comply if the conciliation decisions were not binding. 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. It was felt that the oil workers were now treated on an industrial basis rather than a company basis as they had previously been treated.
It was noted on December 3, 1948 in a letter to Grant Stephenson, President of Local 594, that Mr. O.B. Males would be stepping down as refinery superintendent and Mr B. W. Pawson would replace him beginning December 1,1948.In 1949. 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 Local #594.
The 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s witnessed a wave of expansion for CCRL 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. Neil Reimer would go on to lead oil workers into 4 decades. He would become Local 594’s “first citizen”.
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 1954, a fully modern Catylatic Cracking Plant was erected at a cost of $5.5 Million, and this was followed by the addition of the Coker in 1958.
In 1955, Saskatchewan Federated Co-operatives united with the Manitoba Co-operative Wholesale Society to form Federated Co-operatives Limited.
In 1960, CCRL celebrated its 25th anniversary. This was followed by more expansion in the 70’s.
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.
Neil Reimer started to work at CCRL on January 6, 1942 as a treater-operator. This was the lowest position 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 after he was recommended by 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 1961, the 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.
Since 1980 we have been busy both on the union front and at CCRL. 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.