December 11, 2019
While Co-op’s offer to increase our wages by 11.75% may sound impressive, it is not special. 80% of workers in the energy sector have gotten the same increase as part of what’s called the National Pattern. Co-op Refinery is merely doing what was agreed to by companies across this sector.
The Truth: This is only an illusion of a raise. Based on the other parts of Co-op’s offer, we would wind up paying out of pocket for this standardized wage increase. Why? Because Co-op wants us to go backwards on pensions by paying 11%, plus a 6.5% savings plan elimination equalling a 17.5% decrease in pay. So, with the wage increase being 2.5% in the first year, we would have to give up other forms of pay to the tune of $15,000-$20,000 to get it. The remaining 9.25% of the wage increase over the next three years would not make up for that giant leap backwards we would have to take in other ways.
- Refinery workers make too much money to complain about concessions we want them to take.
- A wage increase equivalent to the national standard of 11.75% should not be cancelled out by stealing from our pensions and savings plan by 17.5%.
Refinery Workers are not Disputing Wages
This labour dispute is not about wages. We know we are well paid. And we deserve it.
First off, we work in a lucrative industry: oil and gas. This is obvious when you read the news articles about Co-op’s record-breaking profits: $1.1 billion in 2018 and on track for $985 million in 2019. Where do those profits come from? The members of Unifor 594. We make the reliable, quality products that generate 80% of that $1.1 billion profit.
Secondly, we are paid to run towards the fire or explosion or vapour release. To bring dangerous situations back into control, we literally walk into fires wearing fire fighting gear and an SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus). We are exposed to asbestos, benzene, and dozens of other carcinogenic chemicals that burn your lungs and eat away your skin instantly on contact. Shift work itself is a health risk. There is a real, everyday risk to the health and longevity of refinery workers.
We bring tremendous experience to the job. No matter what any Co-op executive says about the readiness of replacement workers: experience matters. This is not a cut and dry industry; not all identical equipment responds the same or in the same way every time. Experienced people make for smoother, safer operations.
We are hired with secondary education and continue to train within our specializations, across many different fields. We take yearly refresher courses in such areas as first aid, confined space training, isolation training, workplace handling of chemicals, personal protective equipment training, and fall arrest, to name a few.
For almost half our workers, there is no such thing as weekends, stat holidays or a Monday-to-Friday workweek. We are in the plant on Saturdays during the kids’ ball game, on Wednesday night during the school concert, on birthdays, long weekends, and Christmases. We are outside in -40C weather at 3 am making sure we keep Co-op Refinery safe and functional.
We love our jobs, are proud of our work, and believe we earn the wage and respect we deserve.
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