Written by Ronni Nordal, Q.C., Nordal Law Office, Regina
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged
to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” (Mark Twain)
The purpose of communication of information on a picket line is to persuade and by means of that persuasion to inflict economic harm on the employer. As Supreme Court Justice Brian Dickson J. (as he then was) stated in CUPE v. N.B. Liquor Corporation:
The traditional view of the picket line is that it is simply informative. But its real purpose, as recognized by Mr. Justice Limerick, goes beyond that. Generally, the purpose is to shut down the employer’s operation, or at least to make it difficult to maintain the operation. This is done by dissuading various groups and individuals from having anything to do with the employer. In a heated confrontation, this attempt to discourage extends also to managerial personnel. The employer, by contrast, tries to maintain his operations by using managerial personnel to do the work of strikers, by hiring strike breakers, and by maintaining lines of communication for incoming supplies and services, and outgoing products. In private sector labour relations, these efforts on both sides are typically legal and an integral part of the economic conflict.Supreme Court of Canada
On December 5, 2019 the Consumer’s Co-op Refineries Limited (CCRL) locked out approximately 750 of its employees, all of whom were members of Unifor Local 594. It is clear that CCRL had planned for the lockout for some time and had measures in place to ensure it could continue its operations. These measures included having significantly increased the number of out-of-scope managers; moving trailers onsite and created an onsite work camp for replacement workers and having helicopters on standby.
Unifor Local 594 attempted to exert economic pressure on CCRL. Economic pressure is a critical component of labour relations peace – it is the leverage that can be exerted by workers to gain a fair collective agreement.
Over the course of more than 6 months the ability of Unifor Local 594 to exert economic pressure on CCRL was thwarted. In addition, and just as concerning, Unifor Local 594’s ability to persuade others, including members of the public, to exert pressure on CCRL to resolve the labour dispute through legal picketing were met with the threat of criminal chrages.
Over the six months since CCRL locked out Unifor Local 594 members there has been no stoppage of CCRL operations – its business has carried on. During that same time period Unifor Local 594 members have been threatened, arrested, denied fundamental Charterfreedoms, followed by anti-union “security” hired by the CCRL and put at physical risk of harm without even being made aware of the risk.
The Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital issued a report in 1889 stating: “The man who sells labor should, in selling it, be on an equality with the man who buys it.” Labour laws are intended to equalize the inherent inequity between capital, in this case CCRL and workers, in this case Unifor Local 594.
Last week, Unifor Local 594 and CCRL reached a tentative agreement that is being voted on beginning today. Unifor Local 594 has been put in a position of having no chips left to play. I have no personal knowledge of the content of that offer – but my gut tells me it is not what members of the Unifor Local 594 were hoping for, nor is it what they deserve. We can talk about a Charter protected right to free collective bargaining – but talk is cheap and it appears a corporation like CCRL that is willing to spend enough can render that right almost meaningless.
The solidarity and strength that existed among Unifor Local 594 members on December 5, 2019 not only continues but has grown and solidified. As someone who has observed the lock-out from the outside I have not lost hope. One day workers, including members of Unifor Local 594, will have the ability to colletively bargain from a place of equal bargaining power instead of the scale being tilted in favour of capital from the outset.
Chronology of Events … Truth or Fiction… You Decide
March 2017: In last round of bargaining Unifor Local 594 agreed to new hires being placed in a defined contribution pension plan and, in exchange received a promise that: “Every single employee who currently is in the defined benefits plan will remain in that plan from now until when they retire.”
January 31, 2019: Collective bargaining agreement expires and collective bargaining begins. CCRL tables proposals changing the funding of, and contributions to the existing defined benefit pension plan and other regressive proposals
November 12, 2019: Mandatory mediation not successful
December 3, 2019: Unifor Local 594 votes 97.3% in favour of striking if necessary and gives 48 hour strike notice.
December 5, 2019: CCRL serves lock-out notice before expiry of the 48 hour strike notice period
CCRL continues full operations utilizing replacement workers and by flying in managers, replacement worker and supplies by helicopter
December 17, 2019: CCRL files application for interim injunction in Court of Queen’s Bench
December 18, 2019: Interim injunction order granted limiting delay on ingress or egress to refinery to 5 minutes
December 24, 2019: Interim injunction decision issued (order issued December 27, 2019) finding that:
- Individuals aligned with CCRL and Unifor have attempted to intimidate those on the other side
- Unifor has engaged in activity to impede and/or block the traffic flow in and out of CCRL premises (para 33)
And ordering that:
- Unifor Local 594 is retrained from interfering with ingress or egress except for the purpose of sharing information to a maximum of 10 minutes or until a request to proceed is made, whichever is first
January 20, 2020: Unifor National blockades all entrances/exits and denies access or egress
Regina Police Service arrest 7 individuals including Unifor National President Jerry Diaz
January 22, 2020: Unifor Local 594 found in contempt of the December 18, 2019 interim order and issued a $100,000 fine
January 30, 2020: CCRL and Unifor Local 594 return to the bargaining table
February 1, 2020: Bargaining talks break off
February 3, 2020: Regina Police Service issue statement regarding blockade indicating it is a civil matter between the employer and the union
February 5, 2020: Regina Police Service arrest 4 Unifor Local 594 picketers
February 7, 2020: Regina Police Service blocks access to picket line, takes down blockade, escorts Co-op trucks into refinery and removes Unifor warm up sheds and bathrooms
February 12, 2020: Unifor Local 594 found in contempt of the December 27, 2019 injunction and issued a $250,000 fine. Court of Queen’s Bench authorizes CCRL to remove the barricades grants authority to utilize Regina Police Service to enforce order, if required.
February 12, 2020: Government of Saskatchewan appoints Vince Ready, Q.C. as Special Mediator in the dispute
March 19, 2020: Vince Ready, Q.C. issues recommendations
March 20, 2020: Unifor Local 594 accepts the recommendations of Special Mediator Vince Ready by 98%
March 22, 2020: CCRL rejects recommendations of Special Mediator Vince Ready and indicates it will table a new offer.
March 25, 2020: CCRL tables a revised offer that contains new concessions
April 28, 2020: Unifor Local 594 members reject CCRL’s final offer by 89%.
Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction
Unifor Local 594 discovers through a freedom of information request that a bomb threat had been received on February 18, 2020 and reported to Regina Police Service – but no notice was given to Unifor Local 594. The bomb threat included notice that:
- “only a cell phone away from Ignition Time”
- “have them set in place at some of the gates”
- “If we see not progress this week, it will be time to act”
- Going to “get rid of the Unifor Assholes”
Unifor Local 594 members and their families continue to be followed and videotaped by CCRL representatives – known to be associated with Afimac. Reports made by Unifor Local 594 members to Regina Police Service regarding harassment and intimidation by Afimac/CCRL representatives but no action taken.
At least one Unifor Local 594 member opened their door only to find a dead rabbit laid out on their front step.
Ronni A. Nordal, Q.C. , “Stranger Than Fiction: Unifor Local 594 and Consumer’s Co-op Refineries Limited” Canadian Law of Work Forum (June 22 2020): https://lawofwork.ca/?p=12746