Unifor 594: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

November 7, 2019

What is the central issue for Unifor 594 at the bargaining table?

At issue is pension security. Our position on pension has been clear from the start: We want choice and protection to ensure pension security for every worker. Anything less would be an unnecessary concession.

Choice is about giving workers the option to stay on the defined benefit (DB) plan, as promised, or switch to a defined contribution (DC) plan. The Company wants to terminate the defined benefit plan option, or reduce it to a gutted version of what we were promised.

Protection is about ensuring pension security for those who choose to remain in the DB pension plan like they were promised when they began working at the Refinery.

“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.

When the Company offers pension choice and protection, we will happily help figure out how to make the best transition for those workers who wish to switch to the DC plan.

Haven’t most other refineries/companies switched to a DC pension plan?

Most of the other refineries that have been switching workers from DB (defined benefit) to DC (defined contribution) pension plans have done so like we did during our 2016 contract negotiations: the DB plan became closed to new hires and those remaining in the DB stay on legacy plans. To this day, the other refineries to which we are compared have workers on legacy DB pension plans.

What’s wrong with the DC pension plan?

This is a matter of choice and protection. We want workers to be able to choose whether or not a DC pension plan is right for them, and we want anyone who chooses to remain in the DB pension plan to be protected in the future.

Hasn’t the union declined numbers from the Company for everyone’s switch to a DC pension?

Any numbers offered have been too low to warrant discussion and were apart from the matter of choice & protection. We have our own numbers. And we have been clear from the start that any discussion about pensions must come with the guarantee of choice for members and protection for those who choose to stay on the DB.

Why do you disagree with the Company wanting to be sustainable? / What’s wrong with the company trying to stay competitive?

The Company’s rhetoric about sustainability as the reason for workers to go backwards on their contract is easily challenged.

FCL’s latest Sustainability Report, “Sustainable Together”, talks about the business remaining relevant to local co-ops, their members, and to communities across Western Canada. But nowhere does it mention the sustainability of its valuable workforce. It makes impressive investments in community projects and charitable initiatives, but not in its workers.

We are proud to be part of a larger co-operative system that distributes hundreds of millions of profit dollars – we just want to be respected as the workers who make that possible.

It’s the members of Unifor 594 who keep the Refinery safe and profitable.

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 its 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, that the Company is bleeding money.

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

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.

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

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.

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

As for sustainability in an environmental sense, the Company wants to be lauded for environmental stewardship, but its words are hollow.

The Company has argued that renewables and climate change are a threat to the Co-op Refinery business. But if it truly believes that, what are its plans? Where is FCL’s commitment to renewable energy like solar and wind? The Company takes credit for handling its own wastewater, but that hasn’t happened yet. And where are the Co-op charging stations for electric vehicles?

How has the Refinery responded to the City of Regina’s commitment to becoming 100% renewable?

Do you think the Company has abandoned its co-operative values?

We are proud to work in the first and only Refinery run as a co-operative. 78% of us enjoy our jobs, but only 22% respect the Company. Many feel the Company has abandoned the co-operative values on which it was founded.

The whole point of a cooperative is to share ownership AND earnings. Unlike profit-driven corporations, cooperatives are supposed to invest fairly in the people involved. Our labour allows the Company to share billions in profits with members & communities through the Co-op Retailing System, so why not with its workforce, too?

Refinery workers are proud to be part of a larger cooperative system that distributes profits fairly. When the Refinery pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the Co-op retailing system, the Company should value the workers who make that possible.

Why is Unifor 594 reacting negatively to the construction of camps for replacement workers at the Refinery? What’s wrong with the company preparing for such a possibility?

We considered it a demonstration of bad faith when news broke of the construction of an on-site work camp by the Company in mid-October because negotiations had not concluded.  The safest and best way to run the Co-op Refinery is with Unifor 594 members on the inside, not the outside. We are experienced and highly trained to deal with the life or death situations that can arise when operating this plant.

Why are replacement workers an issue for the union / should the Refinery not be run if you are off the job?

The question isn’t whether the Refinery should be run if unionized workers are off the job, it is that the Refinery is never run as safely as when Unifor 594 members are working.

Why would you think the Company isn’t as concerned about safety as you are?

Concern for safety is not reflected in the Company’s Business Continuity Plan (BCP) – the plan that covers operations during a labour dispute.

The BCP replaces the 3000 years of experience of our process operators with a handful of people who have been removed from these jobs for many years and rookies who know little about our plant. Normal operations require 285 unionized operators to run the dangerous processing units safely, but the BCP calls for 105 minimally trained managers to meet the same standard. The BCP becomes even more unsafe when it replaces the 4500 years of experience around the rest of this plant with unqualified replacement workers.

In a highly volatile, dangerous work environment, the BCP puts the Refinery and community at great risk. If the Company truly values safety, it would do whatever it takes to keep our highly skilled and experience team on the job.

How did the construction of a camp for replacement workers affect your approach for returning to negotiations?

Contract negotiations have the most chance of success when good faith exists among all parties. Camps for replacement workers are the opposite of good faith. Our union has every reason to be skeptical about the Company’s willingness to bargain a fair deal.

How many people work at the Co-op Refinery? How many of them are represented by Unifor 594?

Our current unionized workforce is 729 people. The total number of people working at the Refinery is 1115. There is one out-of-scope employee for every two unionized workers.

Members of Unifor 594 are highly skilled across trades, science, finance, operations, IT, and administration.

Our members work as a team across 21 different jobs, including a variety of skilled trades, accounting, clerical, dispatching, information technology, laboratory, process operations, parts and equipment dispensing, equipment integrity, and general maintenance.

How experienced are your members?

Our process operators have a combined 3000 years of experience. Workers across the rest of the Refinery have a combined 4500 years of experience.