Extra steps are being taken at the Co-op Refinery which would indicate a possible labour disruption is closer to happening.
The company confirmed 50 housing trailers were brought in on site at the refinery March 8 as either a strike or lockout looms, which could happen as soon as early April.
“Trailers have been put in place to ensure the safe and reliable operation of the refinery in the event of labour disruption,” said Brad DeLorey, director of communications and public affairs at the refinery.
A total of 800 employees could be impacted if the two sides cannot reach a deal. The company and Unifor 594 — the union representing employees — met on March 12 with a mediator. At that time, the Co-op offered what it called its final offer to workers.
The union called it a tactic.
“We’re extremely frustrated,” said Unifor’s Kate McKinley. “Basically they’re saying take it or leave it.”
Employees have been working without a contract for over a year as negotiations have been ongoing during that time.
McKinley indicated the potential decision of the Co-op bringing in new, temporary workers could end up being problematic.
“We have highly skilled and trained operators that run that plant and to have people come in off the street to try and run a plant that old, we’re very concerned on the safety aspect of it,” she said.
The Co-op is confident in its ability to maintain safety, calling its management workforce highly skilled and trained.
Unifor said the refinery is trying to impose lower wages on new workers and contract out more jobs. McKinley said they want a new contract to simply contain what workers enjoy now; essentially the status quo.
The sides have differing versions and opinions of what’s included in the latest deal. McKinley said they want the company to drop proposed concessions and commit to the national pattern agreement. The company, meantime, said its offer includes wage increases that are consistent with the national bargaining pattern set by Unifor and Suncor. In addition, the Co-op said the offer doesn’t ask for any monetary concessions from the existing workforce.
Union members are set to vote on the latest offer on March 20. Their bargaining committee is recommending to reject, according to McKinley.
If that happens, it’s unclear whether the provincially-appointed mediator will continue on. If he chooses not to, a report will be issued to the Labour Minister and a 14-day cooling off period will be implemented for both the company and union.
After that, either side could issue a 48-hour strike or lockout notice.
If a deal isn’t reached by April 9, the mediator will be gone as he was only appointed for 60 days, beginning on Feb. 9.
McKinley said they’re still optimistic a deal can be reached, mediator or not.