Our members called for a strike vote on Dec. 3. After the votes were counted on Dec. 4, we announced that 97.3% of the nearly 75% of members who voted are in favour of taking some sort of job action. At 4:30pm that day, we served the Company 48 hours notice of job action; the Company then served us 48 hours notice of lockout. A tentative deal was not reached by 5:30pm on Dec. 5, at which time the last of our members were escorted off the premises by security and the lockout officially commenced.

December 3, 2019

Unifor Local 594

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why has the union changed its mind and taken a strike vote?

We are concerned for the safety and mental health of our members. Since the Company made everyone believe we would be getting locked out, workers have been on edge for a long time. Because the situation is growing more dangerous for our members and the plant, we think it is important to push to get things going.

While it feels ridiculous to strike to protect the status quo, this level of greed and disrespect from a so-called co-operative absolutely cannot go unchallenged. We love our jobs and would always much rather be on the inside, but the stressful and toxic work environment cannot continue.

What about your concerns about Refinery safety?

The safest way to run the Refinery is with our members on the inside. If we are not inside, the only safe option is shutting it down. Our formal notice of job action would be accompanied by an offer to shut down the units safely.

Using a smaller group of underqualified replacement workers to operate the Refinery puts public and plant safety at great risk.

If the Company is serious about safety, it would do whatever it takes to keep us working.

What is the status of your negotiations with FCL/CRC?

The 14-day cooling off period mandated after mediation broken down timed out at 11:59pm on November 26. Since then, there has only been more of the same from the Company. It keeps trying to convince Refinery workers and the public that it is being generous in its offer. It uses sleight of hand to distract from the concessions and rollbacks it’s demanding. This trick hasn’t worked on our members, and we are confident the public sees through it.

Our members felt forced by the Company to take a strike vote. The result of 97.3% in favour of job action makes it clear we are united and unwilling to play the Company’s game.

Our members are solid and united in our position on the points of contention: choice and protection on pensions and no going backwards on the collective bargaining agreement.

If job action is what it will take to get a fair deal, they are willing to do that.

Why won’t the union negotiate or compromise on those points of contention?

It’s a matter of respect. We are highly skilled, highly experienced, and bring tremendous value to the Company.

We are not being greedy – we only want to keep what was promised to us 3 years and $2.5 billion dollars ago.

“To be perfectly clear, every single employee who currently is in the defined benefits plan will remain in that plan from now until when they retire.” That’s what Vic Huard said during our last contract negotiation. If the executive vice-president of Federated Co-operatives Ltd. lied about that, we have to wonder what else the Company is lying about.

We are willing to make changes to pension liabilities but will not budge on pension security for every worker. When Co-op is raking in billions in profit, anything less is an unnecessary concession.

What is the current situation inside the plant?

Morale is low but resolve is high. Our members are justifiably frustrated. Nobody enjoys going to the job they love when the Company shows such pettiness and contempt for their expertise and value.

Workers are being pressured by high-paid management personnel to accept the unfair deal. Being fed Company propaganda every day is causing this place to be a very high stress environment. Work has slowed down and jobs are not being given out as normal.

Operations are dysfunctional. Having people shadow you because they might have to do your job is stressful. Having a scab camp built in preparation for a smaller, underqualified team to take over your work has a negative psychological effect on our team across the plant. The Company’s attacks on our credibility, our motives, our members – plus its campaign of misinformation – has really taken a toll on everyone. The Refinery is a very stressful and toxic environment. Our members are understandably discouraged.

Do you feel there is a deal to be made before lockout or strike?

We are always hopeful to get a fair deal, but it is not looking very good. The Company’s position remains unreasonable. It is insistent that we go backwards even though we have helped it rake in record profits the last two years in a row. We are not being greedy here – we only want to keep what we have, and what the Company promised us three years ago.  

What has the union done to try to get a deal?

We have offered to compromise with an option for workers to switch to the Defined Contribution (DC) Plan if they choose while protecting people who decide to stay on the Defined Benefit (DB) Plan. We have offered to make changes to pension liabilities. The Company will only be happy if workers go backwards. It is really baffling to us because our offer of the optional switch to DC will give Co-op massive savings, but it seems to want it all.

Co-op says pension changes are needed for sustainability; is the Company in a position of unsustainability?

The campaign about sustainability is the only card the Company has to play. Co-op is banking on workers, Co-op members, and the public being gullible or dumb. But most of us don’t believe the rhetoric.

Co-op is not unsustainable.

Since 2016 began, the Co-op Refinery has made close to $3 billion in profit. That accounts for 86% of FCL’s net profits. And it’s all thanks to our labour. But the Company keeps moving the goal post on what defines tough times.

When the Company makes comparisons with Sears and Nortel, it’s just hype. There is no evidence that the senior leadership team is failing or that the Company is bleeding money.

The Refinery has never been in a situation where it has lost money.

We have every reason to see a continuing bright future for the Refinery:

The Co-op Refinery keeps raking in profits. It produces high quality products. Its safety record is good and always improving. It has a major competitive advantage in heavy oil refining, operating in a market where there aren’t a lot of competitors. The market supply matches demand closely, keeping gasoline and diesel at a profitable price. Changes to the corporate tax structure in its favour allow for capital expansion and revamps in operations. It has a highly skilled, experienced, and loyal workforce. It is a leader in the industry. And its co-operative structure is a unique value proposition.

The only visible way that FCL is using profits to prepare for its financial future? Disrespecting Refinery workers. The DB pension plan is hardly a threat to the future viability of the Refinery or FCL.

So when the Company talks about being sustainable in a financial sense, we say:

– 75 years of consistent profits should inspire confidence, not fear-mongering

– Record profits should mean security for workers

– There will always be enough to respect workers