REGINA — A judge has fined a union that represents more than 700 workers at a Saskatchewan oil refinery $100,000 for violating a court order that set limits on picketing during an ongoing contract dispute.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Timothy Keene found Unifor intentionally and deliberately disobeyed an interim injunction limiting the time members can hold up traffic going in and out of the Co-op refinery in Regina.
Unifor, which represents 300,000 private-sector workers across Canada, announced Monday that it planned to stop replacement workers from entering the refinery and fuel trucks from leaving in an attempt to shut down the plant and force talks to resume.
In his decision, Keene wrote that deterrence is required to convey the need for Unifor to follow court orders.
“Particularly those intended to bring some level of stability to a tense labour dispute,” he wrote in a judgment released Wednesday.
Police in Regina have charged 14 Unifor members over the blockade and are still deciding whether additional charges should be laid.
“In light of this ruling, we ask that Unifor comply with the injunction order currently in place and remove the blockade,” refinery owner Federated Co-operatives Ltd. said in a news release.
In a video posted to the Regina police Facebook page later Wednesday, Chief Evan Bray said that officers have a plan on how to deal with the situation and have reached out to Unifor.
Bray reiterated that blocking access to the refinery is illegal. He said allegations that the police’s SWAT team was at the refinery and had used tear gas were not true.
Unifor secretary-treasurer Lana Payne said members would continue to hold the picket line, which had grown to include layers of fencing and parked rental vehicles with deflated tires.
The company locked out workers in early December after they voted overwhelmingly in favour of a strike. The main issue is pension plan changes the company wants to make.
Paul Woit, who has worked at the refinery for almost 20 years, is three years away from retirement. He said what the company is proposing would cause him to lose half his pension.
“Thirty-thousand (dollars) a year,” he said Wednesday. “I can’t afford this. There’s no way I can make it up.”
Federated Co-operatives has said workers don’t pay into their pension, which costs the company upwards of $100 million a year and is unsustainable in the long term. It says it’s offering a choice between staying in their defined benefit plan — but having to contribute to it — or moving to a defined contribution plan.
Wednesday’s court ruling came as labour leaders from across Canada joined a rally in support of the refinery workers.
“This fight is about all of us,” Hassan Yussuff, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, told a crowd gathered on the picket line.
Supporters hoisted flags representing different unions that have been uniting behind the workers, including nurses unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union.
Some labour leaders, including Yussuff, called on Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government to get both parties back to the table.
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili, who attended the rally, said the government should facilitate a meeting between both sides.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press