Co-op Refinery spill highlights dangers of relying on scab workers


REGINA—Unifor Local 594 is extremely disappointed, but not surprised, to learn of the major loss of containment from the Co-op Refinery Complex that occurred on May 22, 2020, that resulted in the contamination of the City of Regina’s sewer system.

“With the Co-op Refinery using inexperienced scab labour to operate an intricate and complex refinery, it’s these types of major incidents that we were afraid of when we were locked out back on December 5, 2019,” said Kevin Bittman, Local 594 President. “I’ve worked at the refinery for 23 years, and windy conditions are not abnormal in Saskatchewan, so Mr. DeLorey’s explanation doesn’t have merit. There is more to this than just weather.”

It was reported in the Leader-Post on May 29, 2020, that the Co-op Refinery is guilty of discharging an “unknown amount” of oil into the City of Regina sewer system. The alarming fact that it was the City of Regina that discovered the spill, and was not reported by the Co-op Refinery, should concern almost everyone.

“Our hardworking members are highly skilled and highly trained for these exact scenarios and it’s clear we are the key to safety at the refinery. Bringing in replacement workers from out-of-province with little to no training and throwing them in to operating the refinery is a recipe for disaster,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President.

This latest spill is not an isolated incident. Since the lockout began there have been numerous spills and releases that have the potential for significant impact on the environment. Picture and videos have circulated the internet of catalyst excursions to the atmosphere, abnormal sulphur releases, and transporting tank cars with the lids open or covered in product from spills during the loading process. These are just a few examples of incidents we have become aware of. Much like the latest spill, it’s impossible to say what else has gone unreported.

“At this point, it’s not clear what else needs to happen before Premier Scott Moe shows leadership and legislates an end to the lockout. Our lives have been threatened on the picket lines and at our homes, and now the environment has been impacted. It shouldn’t take a catastrophic event to occur before the government ends this,” said Dias.

Local 594 will be calling on the Ministry of Environment, and all other appropriate agencies, to conduct a full and thorough investigation into the release from the Co-op Refinery. There are real concerns that once oil enters the city wastewater system that it can easily migrate into the Qu’Appelle Valley water way that many farmers use for irrigation and drinking water. This incident is drawing similarities to the 2016 Husky spill into the North Saskatchewan River.

The collective agreement between Local 594 members and the Co-op Refinery Complex expired on February 1, 2019. Local 594 represents nearly 730 members. The union has accepted the recommendations of Special Mediators Vince Ready and Amanda Rogers, but the Co-op Refinery has rejected the mediators’ report and this unnecessary lockout continues.