Union in refinery labour dispute threatens farm fuel supply

Some Saskatchewan farmers could find themselves with limited access to Co-op fuel locations this spring thanks to an ongoing labour dispute between Federated Co-operatives Ltd. and unionized FCL workers.

Unifor Local 594, the labour union that represents approximately 730 workers at FCL’s oil refinery in Regina, issued on its website an “open letter to farmers” last week, saying it has no choice but to disrupt access to Co-op fuel outlets in order to settle a bitter dispute with FCL.

Unionized workers at the Co-op refinery have been locked out since late last year.

FCL has continued to operate its Regina refinery using replacement workers.

Unifor’s plan to disrupt rural fuel supplies at Co-op fuel locations, including cardlock facilities, is aimed at securing a settlement in the long-standing dispute, Unifor’s letter said.

“We are in the fight of our lives and careers,” the union’s letter to farmers said. “We have attempted to end this dispute time and again, including accepting the mediators’ compromise with its huge rollbacks. Nothing has worked.

“We are in a position where disrupting the flow of fuel to farmers during seeding is the only option we have to get back to work. We do not want to do that, but our options are limited when the company does not want a deal.”

Unifor also urged farmers to contact Saskatchewan MLAs and local Co-op board members and encourage them to seek an end to the dispute.

Earlier this month, Saskatchewan’s general farm organization, the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, raised concerns about the potential for the FCL-Unifor labour dispute to affect rural fuel supplies in Saskatchewan.

“Our members have a very short window in which to seed our 2020 crop,” APAS president Todd Lewis said in a May 8 news release. “The very last thing that farmers need right now is to have seeding compromised by not being able to get fuel.”

Lewis said many farmers depend on Co-op cardlock stations as their primary source of farm fuel. APAS urged both sides in the dispute to work together to ensure that the “critical fuel supply” is maintained during the growing season.

In a recent interview with the Regina Leader Post, Lewis said Saskatchewan farmers should be left out of the dispute and treated as neutral parties.

“There’s no advantage to picking sides from a producer’s standpoint,” Lewis told the newspaper. “I think there’s lots of opportunity for both sides to get their point across without disrupting farmers at such a critical time in their production cycle.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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