Hired Guns

April 20, 2020

With the Co-op Refinery rejecting several offers from Unifor and the Special Mediators’ recommendations, that all offered tens of millions of yearly savings, it’s not a stretch to say this lockout never really was about cost savings or sustainability. The Co-op has utilized a strategy of horizon bargaining and intimidation (see Unfair Labour Practices) with their unionized workforce. One can only surmise their intentions are to break a 78 year old union.

It is well known that the Co-op Refinery has paid exorbitant fees to contract the services of several security and investigative companies solely for the lockout, including; Buckingham Security, Corporate Investigation Services (CIS), Impact Security Group, and Evident Corporate Investigations. These high-priced contractors are in addition to FCL’s regular Asset Protection team based in Saskatoon.

It’s the Co-op Refinery’s hiring of the global risk management and security firm, AFIMAC, that is most concerning. A massive company, operating in twelve different countries, AFIMAC pride themselves on assisting a wide variety of companies to prepare for labour disruptions with an assortment of services, including lockout preparations and Business Continuity Planning. They are a shadowy organization straight out of a James Bond movie and are considered to be modern-day professional union busters.

The Co-op Refinery’s Business Continuity Plan is not a new idea, nor is it their own. It’s a tale almost as old as time and dates back to the Remington Rand strike of 1936-37, a particularly violent labour dispute that is notorious for spawning the Mohawk Valley Formula, which is often described as the “anti-union “strike-breakers’ playbook”.

It is easy to see why the National Labour Relations Board has labelled the Mohawk Valley Formula as a battle plan for industrial warfare. The Mohawk Valley Formula details a strategy that includes:

  • discrediting union leaders
  • frightening the public with the threat of violence
  • using local police and vigilantes to intimidate strikers
  • forming associations of “loyal employees” to influence public debate
  • fortifying workplaces
  • employing large numbers of replacement workers
  • threatening to close the plant if work is not resumed

Infamous union buster Martin J. Levitt has said the key to his craft was fear, breaking the law, divide and conquer in the workplace, and misinformation. It’s easy to see that AFIMAC has incorporated those key elements into their business model. Their webinar, “Strike Preparation and Contingency Planning” illustrates the lengths they will go to gain any advantage possible over unions and their members.

A well-known example of AFIMAC’s tactics in action comes from the labour dispute at a Labatt’s Brewery in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2013. Chris Henley, the local’s lead negotiator is quoted as saying, “They’re following our members around the city. Trying to provoke argument, continuously. Trying to goad our members into violating the court injunction. They spend all their time, two people in a van … Consistently in their faces, filming them. The police come and talk to workers, they’ll try to get the names of the workers and even the police officers. But it’s all from the perspective of intimidation. They won’t use that video for anything.”

These tactics are all too familiar to our membership. AFIMAC’s strategies have pulled the rug out from fair collective bargaining and poisoned a once-great workplace. Any company that procures the services of AFIMAC have no interest in fair resolution. And their bully playbook doesn’t come cheap.

During a two-week faculty strike at the University of New Brunswick in 2014, the University administration hired AFIMAC as security to “keep an eye on its picketing professors”. A Freedom of Information request later revealed that the UNB paid AFIMAC over $200,000 for that service.

Then in 2015, Halifax Water, paid $2,000,000 to AFIMAC during a two-month labour dispute with CUPE workers. The president of CUPE local 1431, Heather Corkum, wrote a letter to a Halifax city councillor asking: “Even if you could justify having security during a labour disruption, how do you justify bringing in known union-busters and strike ‘specialists’ to use intimidation and coercion to try and strong-arm us into who-knows-what at such a high cost to the ratepayers?”

The lockout out at the Co-op Refinery is now into its fifth month and we can only speculate what AFIMAC has cost the co-op members & retails to fund their union-busting activities. From AFIMAC’s previous contracts mentioned above we have a rough idea of what they cost, and considering Brad Delorey, Communication Director for CRC, comments that, “we spent the last years really perfecting this plan”, we can safely assume a considerable amount of money has been plucked from co-op members pockets and handed over to the global union-busters at AFIMAC.

It is shameful and disappointing that the Co-op Refinery has aligned themselves with such a toxic company like AFIMAC. Their sole purpose is to undermine the bargaining process and break unions. But if the Co-op Refinery, and their hired guns, think they can break the 730 hard working members of Unifor 594 they will be sadly mistaken.

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