FCL promises to have spring fuel flowing to producers

Signs like this one in St. Claude, Man., went up at  cardlock stations across the Prairies recently due to the lockout at Federated Co-op’s refinery in Regina.  |  Jeannette Greaves photo

Farm customers will have access to fuel for spring seeding if the labour dispute between Federated Co-op Ltd. and Unifor at the Regina refinery continues that long.

Vic Huard, executive vice-president of customer experience and stakeholder engagement, said last week the company has a plan to get fuel to farmers, but he declined to provide details.

He said the company doesn’t want disgruntled union members to be able to thwart the plan so it will remain under wraps.

Fuel shipments have been delayed since the dispute began in December after Unifor Local 594 gave strike notice. Its contract had expired in January 2019 and negotiations stalled over proposed changes to the pension plan.

The company responded by locking out the more than 700 workers, who have since hindered truck access to the refinery and other facilities.

As a result, FCL several weeks ago imposed limits of 300 litres of diesel and 100 litres of gasoline per member at cardlock stations.

“We wanted to make sure emergency fleets had fuel,” said Huard.

But farmers across the Prairies have complained about having enough fuel to haul grain.

FCL has sought and obtained court injunctions to remove the barricades at the Regina refinery and the Carseland, Alta., distribution facility. Huard said they would be doing the same at Winnipeg.

The blockades in Regina were dismantled Feb. 7 and in Carseland Feb. 9.

In Winnipeg, Unifor workers are blocking facilities owned by Shell and Imperial but used by FCL.

“That’s a big market for us and they’re essentially out of fuel in Winnipeg,” Huard said Feb. 7 as trucks prepared to leave Regina and head east.

Huard said the company hadn’t been able to move a drop of fuel out of Carseland since it was blockaded in late January.

“We have lots of fuel,” he said. “It’s a matter of we just can’t get it past the blockades.”

Typically, 140 trucks a day leave that facility.

“On a normal day we would move 250 B trains a day out of Regina,” he said. “If we get those 390 a day (including Carseland) that’s going to make a huge difference.”

However, the limits at cardlocks still applied as of Feb. 7.

“I am concerned about having fuel in spring,” farmer Ernest Andersen of Big Beaver, Sask., wrote in an email to The Western Producer. “Over half the fuel from that refinery is used for agriculture and it (is) us that pay their wage. Now we have crops out and are struggling to pay our bills.”

Andersen said many farmers are operating at a loss yet workers want a “healthy wage plus a greedy pension.”

He added the refinery belongs to shareholders and if he doesn’t have fuel for spring seeding he will organize a farmer rally to get the workers off the property.

In Manitoba, Sarah Bezemer said her family was having trouble getting fuel delivered to their farm from their local co-op.

“This will become an issue long-term as our business is beef and we need diesel to run our feeding tractors,” she said via Twitter.

She said she has no issue with employees who are trying to get better agreements but that they should honour the court ruling that said they can’t block trucks at the refinery for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Huard apologized to farmers who couldn’t access the fuel they needed.

Unifor has called on the Saskatchewan government to appoint a mediator who can implement a binding settlement.

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