Co-op or Big Business?

Submitted by a concerned owner

November 17, 2019

It is truly an amazing accomplishment that in today’s business environment, a system like Co-op can survive.  Large corporations are driving out small business as the desire for profits, at any cost, has changed how commerce operates in our world. 

So how has the Co-op survived? The Co-op has survived because of their members and customers value community, shopping local and in turn reward the system with loyalty.  With so many choices in the marketplace, loyalty matters. Loyalty to a company is critical to the bottom line and it’s earned from generations of people building the brand.

The Co-op system consists of individual retailers across Western Canada. The owners are the people that have purchased a membership in each of those individual communities. Some retailers are small, and some are much larger.  Some have gas stations, food stores, hardware store, or all the above.  Most often they provide a service to a community that a large corporation would not bother with because there is no money to be made in that market.

The Co-op system was designed to provide a service, sometimes at the sacrifice of profits.  Sacrificing profits and reinvesting in its operations.

How do they survive? How do they all have brand new gas stations, grocery and agro stores across Western Canada?  The answer is all those retailers are part owners of the Co-op Refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan.

There is a debate about why the Refinery exists. Is it because the retailers have gas stations to sell the products the refinery produces? Or is it because of the massive profits the refinery makes that enables the retailers to build the nicest, newest stations or stores? The reality is its both.  The Co-op exists because big business has a history of abandoning the rural areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The profits from the Refinery allow people to pump gas for you at the gas station, when no other competitor can do it because it does not make money.  The system works because we are all a piece of the system and we do it together.

In the past three years the Refinery has posted 2.5 BILLION dollars of profits.  FCL distributes a portion of these profits back to the retailers as patronage. The portion that FCL holds onto can be used for capital investment into the Co-op Refinery. The Company has painted these investments, as retailer investments, because it was money that could have gone to the retailers, but the reality is the money came from the Refinery and goes back to the Refinery.

What is going on, things seem to be going fine, why is the Co-op building a replacement worker camp to run the Refinery without their employees?  Where have things gone wrong? What leaders thought that was a good idea?

The Co-op website says “Enjoy an experience of a lifetime” when talking about a career at the Co-op.  Our employees are our success and we adhere to a high ethical standard.  Strong statements coming from an employer that is trying to take their pension away, among other reductions in benefits.

The Refinery has lost its cooperative values.  Three years ago, the Company said they needed a two-tier pension to be sustainable.  The workers gave them that concession and more to save the company money.  Since those concessions, the refinery has made 2.5 BILLION dollars in profit.  1.5 BILLION more than the refinery budgeted, and the retailers expected.

Why is the Co-op Refinery and FCL asking for more concessions?   With back to back years of record BILLION-dollar profits, why are they trying to force the workers into a lesser pension.  Is it ethical to hurt families by changing the pension the workers were promised when they were hired?  These workers have planned their whole life and career to retire with a certain pension in mind and to change that now is wrong.

These are the workers that pulled the Refinery through some very tough and dark times.  The same employees that ran towards the fires and explosions of 2010 and 2013.  These are the employees that left their families on Christmas Eve to help get the plant running after a freeze up and a large-scale explosion and fire.

Do the owners really agree with the Co-op Refinery or FCL to take these workers pensions away?  Do the retailers need the profits so much that they need to take money out of the Refinery workers pockets?  Are there not enough profits to give these workers what was promised by the refinery when they were hired?

This does not sound like the cooperative values we would expect from a Co-op Refinery or the owners.  The workers have even offered a compromise to keep labour peace.  A deal that they feel is not needed for sustainability but would be a deal that they could live with.  A deal that would be fair for both sides and would leave it up to individuals if they want to change pensions.  A deal that would respect those decisions the workers make.

 A cooperative should be looking to compromise, but for some reason it is all or nothing for the Company.  Greed for profits is more important to FCL than supporting the people that make the profits.  Improving the bottom line that is already at 3 million a day does not sound like a high ethical standard.

Our employees are our success, so why do we not let them succeed?   The workers are not being greedy, they just want what they were promised when they started their career.  They just want what they planned their life and retirement around.  They risk their lives in a very dangerous industry and they take pride in keeping the refinery safe and profitable.  Is that too much to ask when the refinery is making 3 million dollars a day? 

Let’s get back to our true cooperative spirit and values.  The workers want to continue to keep the Community, neighbours, co-workers and the Refinery safe.  The owners need to find their way back to their cooperative roots as we build this great system together rather than breaking down the workers that got them here.

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