Mediation Breakdown

When Premier Scott Moe and the Honorable Don Morgan offered Special Mediators Vince Ready & Amanda Rogers to help negotiate a deal between Federated Co-operatives’ Limited (FCL) and Unifor 594, there was a sincere belief within the Union that a deal could be reached. That hope faded quickly at the bargaining table when it became obvious the Union was the only party taking the mediator’s appointment seriously.

Right from the beginning, FCL has thumbed their nose at the bargaining process, and little changed after the government and Vince Ready got involved. FCL attempted to pass off their opinions as fact during mediation, while Unifor presented corroborated numbers from pension actuaries laid out quite simply that our proposals were good for workers and saved the Co-op millions every year. In the end, Unifor presented an offer that was creative, produced all the savings FCL required and eliminated DB pension solvency payments. Meanwhile, FCL held firm to their proposals, including some that were previously negotiated to be withdrawn, in their closing submission to Vince Ready.

The Mediators’ final report and recommendations cut right down the middle. It would be hard to argue that it was a slam dunk for either side, but it was the fair deal that the Mediators felt would be enough to settle this dispute and bring an end to the lockout. In the wake of the pandemic concerns, the Union Bargaining Committee made the tough decision to accept the recommendations and the membership ratified the deal on March 23.

This was a deal that was good enough for the membership, the mediator and the government, but still FCL said no. It’s now plainly obvious that FCL has no intentions of ever agreeing to a fair compromise with their workers.

The Mediators’ report spells it out quite clearly, “Put bluntly, implementation of our recommendations would result in significant cost savings for the Employer. We view these recommendations as representing an appropriate compromise basis for a renewed Collective Agreement.”

Unifor moved their position many times during negotiations to come to a new collective agreement. The Union got creative and presented several options to meet FCL’s cost savings demands. But FCL remained uninterested in anything that was not their idea. Bargaining the FCL way is, “my way or the highway” essentially. While they continue to move the goalposts on what gets a deal, the Union maintains committed to resolving this dispute and bringing some normalcy back to our city and province in this trying time.

In mediation, every single concern FCL raised, the Mediators’ report checked those boxes. So why wouldn’t they jump at the offer? We can only speculate, but there is a sense that this was never about pension payments to begin with. When a company, as large and diverse as the Co-op Refinery, pursues cuts to employee benefits to increase profits citing “sustainability” we think they are overlooking plenty of other opportunities to cut costs.

There was no need for FCL to go further than the Mediators’ recommendations when they presented a counteroffer to the Union on March 25th. It showed further disrespect to the Mediators and the Government of Saskatchewan who appointed them. We are currently embroiled in a worldwide pandemic and FCL has used it as an opportunity to demand 12 more concessions from its locked-out workers. It’s a disgusting tactic and not something that you would expect from a co-operative.

So, where does that leave us? What recourse do Oil & Gas workers in Western Canada have when their employer’s negotiating strategy is “lock them out until they are too broke to refuse our horrible offer?” instead of entering good faith negotiations and treating workers with respect?

Unifor has shown leadership and the willingness to compromise to end this dispute. FCL remains stubborn and committed to hurting workers. We need the government to act. The only responsible way to bring resolution to this lockout is through legislating Unifor 594 back to work with the Mediators’ recommendations. Premier Moe and Minister Morgan have received Vince Ready’s recommendation, they can see that it’s a good deal, we are asking them to enforce it. We are simply asking to go back to work.