Regina Co-op Refinery Workers Braving the Cold as Lockout Reaches Fifth Day

It’s a cold, windy Monday afternoon in Regina.

Despite the wind chill making it feel like it’s close to -30°C, the weather doesn’t seem to bother regular Co-op employees as they walk outside the refinery.

These conditions are what they are used to during the harsh Saskatchewan winters. But instead of working, they remain locked out of the facility and continue to walk the picket line.

Today marked five days since Co-op refinery workers went on strike with no new deal on the table.

Unifor, the union that represents the workers, believes the refinery’s safety is in jeopardy as their experienced and skilled members continue to strike while replacement workers tend to the facility’s operations.

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594, said it’s ironic that the company wants to run a safe operation with temporary employees who have little to no experience.

“On paper they probably have all the training, but I’ve been a process operator for 23 years and when things go wrong, you really have to know what to do,” he said as a couple motorists drove by honking their horns for support.

“They don’t have the experience in there and it’s dangerous. We just hope nothing happens because when something does happen, you have to react fast.”

Late Sunday night, Co-op sent out a news release saying they are utilizing helicopters to transport temporary staff, food and parts safely due to the “dangerous situation on the picket lines”. The company added that CRC employees have been “harassed, accosted and verbally abused” when trying to enter and leave the complex.

On Monday afternoon, Unifor responded by stating the company’s allegations are an attempt to “distract attention away from the unsafe operation” of the facility and how picketers have been allowing fuel trucks to arrive and leave the refinery “in a safe and orderly fashion”.

Bittman suggested the irony stretches further when discussing Co-op’s decision to spend money for the use of helicopters rather than find a fair deal at the bargaining table.

However he believes this is a sign that the picket lines are working.

“The company is trying to run an oil refinery with its workforce out on the street… there’s a reason why it takes qualified and skilled people to run a refinery, and locking us out is not going to make it go smoothly.”

Bittman added that striking workers have told him over the last few days they are willing to walk the picket lines for as long as it takes to get a fair deal and labour peace.


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