A group of OPSEU members led by President Warren (Smokey) Thomas and First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida has shored up Unifor’s picket lines at Regina’s Co-op Refinery.
Thomas says he boarded the first plane to Regina when he learned that Unifor National President Jerry Dias had been arrested after joining a picket line.
“Jerry phoned up and said, ‘We need some help’, said Thomas. “That’s good enough for OPSEU. If another union reaches out, we’re there.”
The workers have been locked out since December 5 – 54 days ago. At the heart of the dispute is the employer’s attempt to reduce workers’ pension plan, despite making a profit around $1-billion in 2019.
Thomas stressed the importance of OPSEU’s support for Unifor workers.
“If this employer in Regina gets away with the concessions and trying to bust the union here, that could spread to Ontario,” said Thomas. “It is hugely important that we stop this employer and that every union helps out. We will stand a much better chance when we have a nasty boss in Ontario.”
OPSEU Region 7 Vice-President Ed Arvelin said it was something he wanted to be part of.
“I talked with my family and explained to them what’s going on here. It’s a matter of duty to come out and protect pensions across Canada,” said Arvelin.
Region 6 Vice-President Tara Maszczakiewicz says just seeing some new faces on the picket line seem to provide a lift for the Unifor members.
“It’s all about moral support, said Maszczakiewicz. “The Unifor members really appreciate our presence and we are happy to be here to support them. Employers across the country need to know that the labour movement stands in solidarity from coast to coast.”
OPSEU members continue to arrive in large numbers to take up their OPSEU flags and march for hours in the cold. Despite the weather, there is an upbeat vibe that seems more like a street party. Music is pumping non-stop, and games like hockey and corn hole have been set up. Passing motorists are honking their horns to show their backing.
The mood is inspiring, said Almeida who suggested the support be expanded nation-wide, notably, to Ontario.
“Maybe we need to do offsite pickets to send a message that this isn’t something that’s just in Regina – that if we need to, we’ll expand this to other provinces,” he said. “Because they’re actually standing up, not just for themselves, but for all workers.”