Canadian fuel haulers’ losses mount in ugly dispute between union, refinery

There’s no sugarcoating the situation facing the small group of trucking companies dedicated to hauling fuel from the Co-op Refinery Complex in Saskatchewan to gas stations and customers in Western Canada.

It’s bad. Really bad.

The 26 companies, with 160 trucks and more than 300 drivers, haven’t been able to service the Regina facility on all but a single day since Jan. 20. The reason: a barricade by the union Unifor, whose members are in a bitter contract dispute with the refinery owner, Federated Co-operatives Limited.

The largest fuel-hauler, C.S. Day Transport, lost more than C$500,000 in revenue in January alone — a staggering sum for a firm with just 23 tractors and 45 drivers.

“We just want to get all the guys back to work,” Heather Day, president of C.S. Day Transport, told FreightWaves.

Day said the company is dipping into its reserves and has put off solar panels to keep its drivers on the payroll — and give them a substantial portion of what they would earn serving the refinery.

“We want to have our skilled group of drivers ready to go as soon as this ends,” Day said.

The blockade, in apparent defiance of a court order to limit truck delays to 10 minutes, escalated an increasingly untenable situation for fuel haulers into a dire one. Unifor members had been delaying trucks since early December after the owner locked them out in response to a strike notice.

Drivers report intimidation, punctured tires

The dedicated carriers are effectively between a rock and a hard place because they can’t service other customers without jeopardizing their business with the refinery.

“They’re caught in the middle of all this,” said Susan Ewart, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association.

Alongside the delays, multiple trucking companies reported punctured tires and instances of driver intimidation. Recently, a black SUV followed one of Day’s drivers to a gas station.

The heart of the dispute involves pension benefits for refinery workers represented by Unifor. Federated Co-operatives Limited and the union have at least one point of agreement: Fuel-haulers are getting rough.

“It’s a tough situation for the truckers,” acknowledged Kevin Bittman, president of Unifor Local 594.

Bittman denied that his members have sabotaged any trucks or intimidated drivers — but was also unapologetic about Unifor’s hard line on the pension dispute.  

Federated Co-operatives blames Unifor for creating the situation in the first place. A spokesperson also acknowledged the impact on its dedicated trucking companies.

“We understand their frustration and thank them for their patience and continued support,” said Federated Co-operatives spokesperson Brad Delorey.

Day, for her part, hopes Federated Co-operatives and Unifor reach an agreement “sooner rather than later” and has been checking in with fuel customers to ensure her drivers can rapidly deploy to serve them when they’re able.

The Regina Police Service considers the blockade illegal but has given no indications they will try to move it by force. In the absence of an agreement, Day wants the police to remove the barricade.

“We’re crossing our fingers and hoping the Regina Police will do the right thing,” Day said.