Federated Co-op says locked-out union members are picketing rural cardlock sites, but the impact on farmers is minimal
A prolonged labour dispute between Federated Cooperatives Ltd. and unionized workers from an FCL fuel refinery in Regina continued this week, restricting access to a number of Co-op gas sites across the province.
Refinery workers represented by Unifor Local 549 set up picket lines at about 20 Saskatchewan locations from June 1-5, FCL officials said.
About half of the affected sites were in Regina at Sherwood Co-op locations.
Others were in rural locations including Wilkie, Brock, Unity, Davidson and Glaslyn.
FCL communications manager Cam Zimmer said picket lines at Sherwood Co-op locations in Regina, rural cardlock sites, FCL bulk fuel terminals and the Terra Grain Fuels ethanol plant near Belle Plaine, Sask., caused delays for co-op gas customers, including farmers who use cardlock sites to buy farm fuel.
But the delays were relatively minor and FCL is confident in its ability to continue to supply fuel to rural and urban customers, Zimmer said.
Unifor 549 represents more than 700 FCL refinery workers in Regina. Late last year, the workers rejected what FCL is calling its “best and final” contract offer.
Since then, the workers have been locked out and have been organizing picket lines at FCL and local Co-ops as part of an ongoing effort to secure a better deal.
Earlier this year, farm groups including the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan had expressed concerns that Unifor picket lines at cardlock locations and FCL bulk fuel sites might disrupt farm fuel supplies and delay spring seeding operations for some Saskatchewan growers.
So far, FCL has not heard of any major problems in producers securing fuel in a timely manner.
“The real change since (late last month) … is that they’re picketing in front of a couple of cardlocks, which will have some farmers visiting them, as opposed to before where it was only (FCL) bulk fuel plants,” Zimmer said in a June 4 interview.
“We know that (the vast majority)… of the crop in Saskatchewan is now seeded so there’s definitely less draw on those sites than there would have been even a couple of weeks ago and there’ll be even less draw in the coming weeks as seeding is completed, so we’re not seeing any real impact that way.”
Unifor picket lines at Terra Grain Fuels’ ethanol production facility near Belle Plaine had no impact on the movement of ethanol, said company president Calvin Eyben.
Locked out @Unifor594 members were in Northern Saskatchewan this week, picketing at @CoopFCL locations in Prince Albert and Shellbrook. Sign here to get these oil&gas workers back on the job: https://t.co/uXLotZKY3G #skpoli #boycottcoop #canlab #ready2work pic.twitter.com/RL3DiSdhon
— Unifor (@UniforTheUnion) June 10, 2020
Picketers at Belle Plaine were polite and respectful and caused minor delays to truck traffic, lasting less than a minute, Eyben said.
Ethanol produced at the plant is added to fuel produced at the Regina refinery.
In a typical year, Terra Grain purchases approximately 15 million bushels, or 400,000 tonnes, of wheat from farmers within a 160 kilometre radius of the plant.
It produces 150 million litres of ethanol and 160,000 tonnes of dried distillers grains annually.
Zimmer said FCL’s existing supplies of ethanol, gasoline and diesel are abundant.
“Co-ops are still able to serve producers and … other customers that rely on the Co-op for their fuel,” he said.