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An open letter from FCL

By Daniel Jungwirth

March 27, 2017

As you may already know, negotiations between the Co-op Refinery Complex (CRC) and Unifor Local 594 have broken down. Unifor has chosen to reject our Final Offer, an offer that included wage increases and retention of their industry leading defined benefit pension plan for all current employees. For our part we still hope to reach a competitive and fair negotiated deal; we have made a very fair offer but we cannot impose that deal on the union.

In the coming days and weeks you are going to hear a lot of things. The union is already painting Federated Co-operatives Limited (FCL) as a big, profitable company that is trying to extract concessions from its workers to make even more profits. What this Toronto-based union doesn’t understand is that FCL isn’t a publicly traded company that seeks to maximize profits for far-away shareholders. Here’s what Unifor doesn’t understand: any money that FCL makes is earmarked for reinvestment right here in Western Canada. The majority of that money ($2.5 Billion since 2011) is paid to 196 independent, locally owned retail co-operatives across Western Canada in the form of their patronage dividend. Much of this money ($1.3 Billion since 2011) is then passed along to individual Co-op members through local patronage allocations. The rest is set aside so that FCL and local co-ops can support capital investments in new facilities — and new jobs — in over 500 communities across the West. That’s resulted in over $4.5 Billion in capital investments in Western Canada since 2011. In Saskatchewan alone these investments support services in over 253 communities and help employ almost 10,000 people.

Further, we know that Unifor will use scare tactics in an attempt to frighten people in Regina. They will say that FCL is putting profits before people, and that the CRC cannot be operated safely in the event of a labour disruption. Nothing could be further from the truth — on both points.

First, let’s be clear about profits and production. We have a high level of confidence that our business continuity plan will allow us to operate the CRC safely and reliably. But to do that we will be turning down production. Why? Because we are committed to maximizing safety ahead of maximizing cash flow. Will we take a financial hit because of this decision? Yes we will. But we understand — in a way that a Toronto-based union apparently cannot — that the CRC is too important to the economy of Western Canada for us to do anything else. Our highly trained management teams will operate the Refinery in a way that ensures safe operations and production.

Second, we are committed to this province and to people across Western Canada. The gasoline and diesel produced at the CRC fuels a significant portion of Western Canada’s agricultural economy. Seeding is only weeks away, and we are committed to ensuring that producers have the fuel they need to get the wheels turning in the fields. Too many families and communities are relying on agriculture for us to let anyone down. In spite of the challenges, we will ensure that the fuel reaches the farms, and that this critical sector of our economy is able to play its role in helping all of us weather these challenging economic times.

We are committed to securing a competitive and fair deal with the union and to avoiding a labour disruption. However, if that is unavoidable we will ensure that Regina and surrounding communities are safe, and that the economy of Saskatchewan and of Western Canada does not take another blow during already challenging times.