Unifor tries to shut down Regina refinery; Co-op says union breaking court order

REGINA — A union representing more than 700 workers in a contract dispute at the Co-op oil refinery tried to shut down the Regina facility Monday as police made arrests.

Unifor posted a video on Twitter late in the afternoon showing officers taking the union's national president, Jerry Dias, and western regional director, Gavin McGarrigle, into custody.

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Dias said earlier in the day that managers and replacement workers were being allowed to leave the refinery, but the union was going to stop fuel from being transported out of the complex.

"We're not allowing any trucks in," Dias said. "We're going to shut (the refinery) down until they come back to the bargaining table."

Workers on the picket line successfully blocked a bus filled with replacement staff and managers from entering the refinery, Dias said, and allowed six trucks to leave.

"Those six trucks are never going back in until this dispute is settled," he said.

Police said they arrested seven people in total, while the union said more than a dozen Unifor members, staff and elected leaders were arrested.

"From the beginning of this labour dispute, the Regina Police Service has defined its role as keeping the peace and ensuring public safety," police said in a news release late Monday.

"The law upholds the rights of the union to lawful protest; likewise, the law recognizes the company's right to conduct business."

Co-op said the union is violating a court injunction if it blocks entrance points and called the union's move a bullying tactic.

It said it was "exploring all legal options."

Last month, a judge ruled the union could stop vehicles trying to get in and out of the refinery for a maximum of 10 minutes, so as to provide information on the dispute or until a driver declines the information.

Dias said the blockades don't violate the court order.

"The court injunction was against Unifor Local 594 ... this is being done by the national union and the bodies that we have parachuted into the province."

Police, however, appeared to take a different view.

"Unifor members who are not members of Local 594, were informed that they may be subject to arrest on criminal matters if they chose to ignore the court order or interfere with the lawful operation of the business," their news release said.

"Starting at approximately 5:15 p.m., Regina Police Service members arrested seven adult males and transported them to the Regina Police Service detention area."

It said names and charges would be released one the details were available.

Throughout the day, police had asked drivers to avoid the area and said it was up to both sides to avoid an escalation.

Unifor said hundreds of members from across Canada have come to the site to support the refinery workers.

"Tonight's escalation was completely unnecessary and on a level I have rarely witnessed in recent years. We are calling on the Regina Police to immediately de-escalate and stop their heavy-handed tactics aimed at inflaming tensions on a peaceful and legal picket line," Unifor secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said in a statement Monday night.

Workers at the refinery were locked out in early December after the union voted in favour of a strike and issued a notice. The union has launched a national boycott of the facility's owner, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., and picketed at Co-op retailers in Western Canada.

One of the main issues in the labour dispute is pensions.

The workers' last contract expired in February. The union declared an impasse in contract negotiations in September, which led to the appointment of a mediator.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2020

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