An Ohio picket line was set up in front of Prince George locations of Husky Energy, Monday.
Four members of the Lima, Ohio-based branch of the United Steelworkers (USW) were on a tour of Canada, stopping in B.C.'s northern capital before moving on to Alberta with their information lines.
"They are of course entitled to do what they want to draw attention to their side of the dispute," said Husky spokesman Mel Duvall. "They had said they were looking to visit some of our other facilities, to draw attention to their cause. We were expecting to have some representatives show up in Prince George."
The local refinery was certainly expected to be a destination. What was unexpected, especially for the store proprietor, was the information picket in front of an independently owned Husky retail outlet. The picketers were told to conduct their activities off the private property (Central Street adjacent Spruceland Mall). which they immediately complied with. No workers or customers were prevented from coming or going at the Husky gas bar or the Husky oil refinery, but leaflets were handed out and placards were on display.
"Husky is a Canadian company doing business in the United States and you'd think they would bring Canadian morals to their labour practices in other countries, but they don't," said Mike Patton, one of the unionists on the informational picket lines. "Husky is trying to break free of the national pattern bargaining that exists in the energy industry in the United States."
USW-624 in Lima has filed 35 "unfair labour practice allegations concerning Husky's conduct," according to their leaflet. They have been on strike there since May.
Duvall said the negotiation table remains active, with more talks expected this week or next.
"We have put forward two strong settlement offers which met the national pattern agreement for refineries," he said. "We agreed to meet the pattern on wages and benefits and the contract proposal provided our workers with substantial vacation benefits and shift flexibility. The union refused to put either of the settlement offers to our employees for a vote. They have presented counter proposals which do not meet key company items, including the advancement of a proposal to enhance safety, which is a priority for the company."
USW workers from Ohio said the company was proposing contract features that would limit employees' quality time with their families, end time-trade allowances, cut medical benefits, and "undermine wages and standards for all oil industry workers."
Their Canadian USW counterpart locals and partner union the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) are supporting the Ohio workers' solidarity tour of Canada.
"We have stood beside our partners before, in other issues, and we are doing so today for USW-624," said Frank Everitt, president of USW local 1-424 in Prince George. "Our strategic campaign out of Pittsburgh co-ordinates these matters. We did it with Home Depot a few years ago, for example, during an issue with their U.S. workers. Now we are helping energy workers."
"We have received a lot of solidarity; I can't even tell you how amazing it has been in Prince George," said Patton. With him were Barbara Elrod, Toni Miller and Shawn Gilchrist. He added, "cross-border relations and support could go both ways. The way Husky is treating us could come to our brothers and sisters here in Prince George in the future."
Duvall said Husky's 75 years in business were remarkable for their high level of labour peace, and the Ohio situation was rare.