Police on Monday arrested the leader of Canada’s largest private sector union and six others who joined workers blockading the Co-op Refinery in Regina, Saskatchewan, raising tensions in a six-week old industrial dispute.
Federated Cooperatives Ltd (FCL), which owns and operates the refinery, locked out 800 workers on Dec. 5 in a dispute over pensions, but has kept western Canada’s third-largest oil refinery operating with replacement workers and managers.
The arrests came after Unifor, which represents the workers, said that hundreds of union activists had surrounded the refinery, effectively shutting it down.
FCL said the blockade violated a court injunction.
In a video posted on Twitter by Unifor, its leader Jerry Dias is heard saying “you’re escalating” to police as they take him into custody. He urged more union members to come to Regina.
“We are going to hold this line. Nothing gets in,” Lana Payne, Unifor’s National Secretary-Treasurer, said in the same video.
Regina Police Service said Unifor had been informed that a court order prevented them from blocking the refineries’ entrances. Ignoring the order meant protesters would be “subject to arrest on criminal matters”.
“The law upholds the rights of the union to lawful protest; likewise, the law recognizes the company’s right to conduct business,” police said in a statement.
The lockout comes as western Canadian oil producers in Saskatchewan and Alberta struggle to move crude to U.S. refiners, their main market, due to congested pipelines.
Brad DeLorey, a spokesman for FCL, said the blockade was causing delays but the refinery remained fully operational.
The Co-op Refinery, which can process 135,000 barrels of oil per day, makes gasoline, propane and asphalt, among other products.