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What led to the lockout of Co-op Refinery workers?

Three years ago, FCL/Co-op (the management of the Co-op Refinery) said “defined benefit” (DB) pensions were unsustainable, and Unifor 594 needed to give up the current DB pension plan. After painful negotiations, Local 594 agreed to change all new hires to a “defined contribution” (DC) plan which FCL agreed would make them sustainable in the long term.

Vic Huard, FCL Executive Vice President, then made a very public promise that they would never go after the remaining DB pensions and allow the DB pensions of everyone currently working at the Refinery to be “grandfathered” (ie. to be phased out as current workers retired). FCL then had the three best years they have ever had, generating more net revenue than they anticipated. Yet they then somehow decided they were no longer sustainable, and 594 was pressured to dissolve the DB pension plan altogether with an usually aggressive pattern of bargaining (e.g. being asked to re-open negotiations mid-contract many times).

This round of negotiations began at that point. FCL took a heavy handed approach to bargaining, and refused to budge on anything. It was an all or nothing approach. Local 594 attempted to work on an actual deal by negotiating, and the most FCL would budge is giving workers a “choice.” Workers were allowed to switch to the DC plan, or stay on a DB plan, but a DB plan had major concessions to it. Workers had to contribute a large percentage, and the formula was drastically changed which reduced payout for most employees by roughly 50% of their pension.

FCL continued to refuse to make any further negotiations on the matter and 594 essentially walked away from the table, as they knew FCL was no longer bargaining in good faith, and no real negotiations would take place. During this bargaining process, FCL also constructed a scab camp inside the plant for scab workers to live during job action, further solidifying that they had no intention of reaching a deal.

Unifor 594 took a job action vote (referred to as a strike vote), and gave notice of job action (referred to as strike notice, but does not have to mean going on strike). Immediately following that, FCL gave lockout notice to the workers. After the 48 hour period passed Unifor 594 backed down and took no job action, however FCL still decided to lock the employees out, and anyone left inside the plant was walked out by security.

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