Unifor members protest Co-op AGM in Saskatoon

Union members were speaking to people as they entered the building for the AGM

A Unifor member carries flags during a demonstration at TCU Place in Saskatoon’s Central Business District on Feb. 29, 2020. There, members are trying to relay information to board members who are in Saskatoon for the FCL’s annual general meeting. (Albert Couillard/CBC )

Red and white Unifor flags were flying high in Saskatoon’s downtown on Saturday as members of the union protested outside Federated Co-op Limited’s Annual General Meeting at TCU Place.

Unifor and FCL have been locked in an ugly labour dispute that has seen people arrested, worker camps established and bad blood formed between the two parties. Unifor Local 594 members, who work at the Co-op Refinery Complex in Regina, have been locked out since Dec. 5, 2019.

“All the Co-op Canada boards across Western Canada are here, they’re the ones that are funding this lockout and we’re here to try and wake them up a little bit,” said Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594.

The dispute between the two parties is mainly focused on the issue of pensions. A previous contract included a defined benefit pension for workers.

Now the refinery is moving toward a defined contribution plan. The union says the change would amount to taking away workers’ pensions. The refinery says it is trying to remain competitive.

Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594, was in Saskatoon with roughly 100 other Unifor members who were protesting outside of TCU Place during the Federated Co-op Limited AGM. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

There were roughly 100 members of Unifor Local 594 from Regina in the city for the protest.

Bittman hopes the protest sends a clear message to board members: “It’s time to start bargaining in good faith instead of moving the goalposts away from the deal — let’s get a deal done.”

He said Unifor members have been speaking with people attending the AGM as they enter the building.

A statement from Federated Co-op Limited indicated the company didn’t take issue with the gathering.

“They have a right to share information and we have a mandate to operate our business for our local co-ops,” FCL said in the statement. “That’s what’s happening here today.”

In the statement, Federated Co-op Limited said it does take issue with blockades that were set up in Yorkton earlier this week, with the company calling the blockade illegal.

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