Courtesy: Federated Co-operatives Ltd.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias and 13 other union members were arrested Monday night in Regina after the union blockaded the Federated Co-operatives Ltd. refinery as part of an ongoing conflict over employees’ defined benefit pension plan.

The barricades are another escalation in an increasingly tense labour dispute that saw Co-op lock out more than 700 refinery workers following Unifor’s issuance of a 48-hour strike notice in early December. 

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

The Co-op employees’ DB pension is at the heart of the stalled contract negotiations, with Unifor claiming the employer is demanding unreasonable concessions. Currently, the DB plan is fully funded by Co-op, but the company wants employees to begin paying 11 per cent of total contributions. It also wants to reduce the benefit multiplier from two to 1.75 per cent and cut the indexing maximum for retirees from five to three per cent.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Dias said Co-op promised that the terms of the DB plan would remain the same for members who were in the plan during the last contract negotiation two years ago. At the time, both parties agreed all new employees would join a new defined contribution plan.

“We are dealing with a corporation that is making $3 million a day, that three years ago said to our bargaining committee . . . if we agreed to change our pension for new hires, [the DB] pension is safe,” said Dias.

Read: Head to head: Is Canada’s pension future DB or DC? 

“We are dug in on the pension plan because they can absolutely afford it and they [promised it],” he said. “There is no question, we are not going to be walking away from the bargaining table without a defined benefit pension plan.”

Dias called on Co-op to return to bargaining. “Co-op is in complete control of this situation. We can resolve this situation today if in fact they have a desire to do that. If they want an agreement, they have my phone number. We need to get to the bargaining table and we need to see where the company is at.”

In a press release on Monday, Co-op lambasted the union for “illegally blockading” the entrance to the refinery “as a bullying tactic” and criticized the union for bringing members from out of province to protest. “Today’s actions by Unifor represent yet another violation of the court injunction and it’s abundantly clear that Unifor has no respect for the rule of law.”

Dias was charged with mischief and isn’t allowed within 500 metres of the refinery. He was released after seven hours in holding. All other union members have been released from custody.

Read: 80% of Canadians would prefer pension improvements over salary increase: HOOPP

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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