Lengthy lockout: Co-op announces tentative deal with Regina refinery workers

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REGINA — The end could be in sight for a bitter labour dispute between the union and owner of Regina’s oil refinery complex, as both sides say they’re reached a tentative contract deal.

Federated Co-operatives Ltd. announced the deal Thursday morning, saying it includes parts of the company’s final offer and a return-to-work agreement.

It comes after union members picketed around the province and urged Premier Scott Moe’s government to legislate binding arbitration to end the more than six-month dispute.

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More than 700 refinery workers were locked out in December after they took a strike vote.

“The end is always a tough spot,” said Unifor Local 594 president Kevin Bittman, standing beneath an umbrella during a rainy press conference outside the legislature.

“There’s always mixed emotions. You’ve been through six months, really, of a battle with an employer that was trying to break us.”

The dispute saw Moe appoint a provincial mediator after the union blocked access to the refinery and some members were charged with mischief, including Unifor’s national president.

The company didn’t accept the mediator’s recommendations and, in turn, union members rejected a final offer from Co-op.

Both sides are not releasing details of the tentative agreement until it is ratified by members of Unifor Local 594, who are set to vote Monday.

Company spokesman Brad DeLorey said the two sides worked this week on clarifying the return-to-work agreement.

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Gil Le Dressay, vice-president of refinery operations, said the labour disruption has been difficult for everyone.

“But we are hopeful that the membership will ratify the deal, and our employees will return to work soon,” he said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the union said it anticipates workers will return to the refinery in a “slow trickle.”

Unifor said it has worked to ensure local leaders and members would be protected in the return-to-work protocol against possible retribution from the company.

Bittman said he’s still concerned those on the bargaining committee could be terminated.

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In the end, he said he feels that the union gave more than it got back in negotiations.

“There was not one thing that we really received in this whole ordeal,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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