Risky Business

October 30, 2019

The Co-op seems really concerned about sustainability ten to twenty years down the road but are willing to risk it all with their Business Continuity Plan (BCP).

Co-op’s plan in a labour dispute is to continue production to provide fuel for Western Canadian customers. This entails maintaining operations in all but three units with one third of the regular staff.  For normal operations, the Process department has 285 operators to safely operate the dangerous processing units. In a labour dispute, the Company’s “plan” requires a total of 105 minimally trained managers.

Our Unifor 594 in-scope process employees have 3000 years of combined operating experience. The BCP plan replaces 3000 years of knowledge with very few veterans who have been removed from these jobs for many years, and rookies that know little about being a process operator.

How does the Company risk operating one of Canada’s most complex refineries with so little people? The BCP has out-of-scope employees locked in the plant, working double the hours of the normal process department. Not only will these people not be able to be home with their families – they will be doing a job with little-to-no experience, in a highly volatile, dangerous work environment. Unit upsets happen, fires happen, and explosions happen, and it is the job of our in-scope process team to handle these situations. It is extremely dangerous and naive to think this BCP team – under stress, fatigue, little experience and less staff – will be able to safely navigate abnormal operations when they go wrong.

The BCP plan becomes even more unsafe when the company is planning to replace all the workers in the rest of the plant with unqualified workers.  The permanent unionized workers have around 4500 years of experience at the Co-op Refinery.  When they are replaced by workers that have never seen the inside of our very dangerous plant there are many things that could go wrong.

Out of Scope employees will be locked into the camp for the first two weeks, and possibly longer. Working extended hours is a recipe for disaster. Their schedule will have them working four days/three nights with two days off, all 12-hour shifts. This equates to 84 hours in a 9-day rotation. The replacement workers will be trying to get their rest on a cot in a shoddy trailer next to operating units with a bunch of greenhorns boiling highly volatile oil. Good luck trying to sleep with that anxiety!

The fatigue will be real. Adding in the stress of not being able to go home to see their families, it will be unbearable. They will be spending an abundance of their time at work. That’s assuming they don’t get asked for any “extra effort”, or that every shift change is somehow instantaneous, and there’s no special mandatory meetings. Who will be performing their regular duties while they perform BCP duties?

To be semi-competent, the veteran managers will be attempting to refresh their skills during the two-week cooling off period, all while they train other people for the BCP. It’s a fantasy compared to the current practice of training new hires who went to school to be a process operator, have previous experience, and are supported by a full complement of trained and experienced in-scope operators.

On shift, our 285 in-scope process operators have been working as teams for years.  We have grown into a family, handling life or death situations. We rely a lot on trust. But it’s not blind trust. Trusting and working as a team is not something that happens overnight, or from sharing a cot. You’re all working as a team to go home safe.

The Company says there are three main reasons for the BCP. To protect the safety of its employees and nearby community, to protect the Western Canadian fuel supply, and to protect Regina’s economy.

It seems like the only way to achieve these goals they have set, is to bargain a fair deal that respects refinery workers.  This will keep the highly skilled and expert workers doing what they do, running the refinery to ensure a safe, profitable business continues to operate and the safety of the community is protected.

Yes, they can bring in extra help, but it takes years of experience, not days of it to do our jobs safely.  But let’s get serious about the BCP Plan. It is not sustainable. There is little to no faith they will be equipped or prepared to safely run our refinery.

Unifor 594 Bargaining Committee

We invite you to learn more about the issues and ask questions by staying informed through our social media, website #SupportUnifor594and email communications. Knowledge is power that you can use as a tool to challenge misinformation in the workplace!