Unifor blockade continues at Co-op refinery after pension talks break down

Unifor is calling out the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. for delaying bargaining after hitting an impasse in a pension dispute.

Currently, the Co-op employees’ defined benefit pension is fully funded by the employer. The conflict started in mid-December when the Co-op proposed that employees begin paying 11 per cent of contributions, among other concessions.

Unifor members have been blockading the entrance to the Co-op’s refinery facility in Regina. Last Friday, the union took down the fences making up the blockade as a condition of returning to the bargaining table with the employer.

In a release, Unifor said it put forward a monetary proposal that would see employees contributing up to six per cent of earnings to their pension plans. The proposal also included changes to pension solvency that would reduce the employer’s yearly special payments, and it suggested workers be allowed to choose between the DB plan and a new  defined contribution plan, which has a four per cent contribution rate from both employer and employees.

Read: Co-op Refinery employees locked out over protracted pension dispute

According to the union, the Co-op wasn’t interested in budging from its original proposal and delayed bargaining proceedings to order to prolong the time the fences remained down. After many hours at the bargaining table, talks broke down and the fences went back up.

“They moved as many fuel trucks out as they could and had food and supplies brought in to replenish their scab camp. They stalled and stalled to make that happen before it became clear to us that this was just theatrics,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor’s national president, who was arrested during the blockade on Jan. 22.

While the Co-op made no comment on the actual pension dispute, it called Unifor’s blockade illegal in a press release. “Unifor said this labour dispute can only be resolved at the bargaining table, and on that we agree,” said Scott Banda, the Co-op’s chief executive officer. “But the bargaining table doesn’t look like setting up blockades, breaking the law and defying court orders. You can’t have meaningful bargaining when your business is being held hostage.”

Read: Unifor head arrested in union blockade over pension dispute