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March 5, 2014 - No. 23

Stepped Up Resistance to
Alberta Government's Attacks on Pensions

Defend the Pensions We Have!
Fight for Pensions for All!


Stand Up For Your Pension Rally, Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton, March 2, 2014.

Stepped Up Resistance to Alberta Government's Attacks on Pensions
Public Sector Unions Say No! to Alberta Government's Latest Dictate on Pensions
Step Up Resistance to Government Attacks on Pensions - Peggy Askin 

Statements by Public Sector Unions
Health Sciences Association of Alberta
United Nurses of Alberta
Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees

Coming Events
Free the Cuban Five!
All Out for International Women's Day!


Stepped Up Resistance to Alberta Government's Attacks on Pensions

Defend the Pensions We Have!
Fight for Pensions for All!



Alberta's public sector workers and their unions firmly reject the Redford government's clumsy attempt to derail the strong opposition that has developed to its attacks on public sector pensions. Workers and their collectives do not accept the use of force, dictate and violence in place of good faith negotiations. They demand a real say in matters that affect them, including wages, working conditions and pensions.

The March 2 rally in downtown Edmonton firmly expressed the militant workers' opposition to the unilateral dictate of the Redford regime. About 2,000 people participated in the rally, including several hundred workers who came by buses organized by the unions from Calgary, Red Deer and Ft. McMurray, as well as by car from other cities and towns in Alberta.

Conditions for the rally could not have been much worse with the bitter cold and severe wind chill factor. The organizers were well prepared with warm up spaces, hot chocolate, heaters and everything possible to ward off frostbite. The success of the rally under these difficult conditions shows the determination of the public sector workers not to submit to dictate and bullying.

Speakers from many public sector unions addressed the rally. They included Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), Paul Moist, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Heather Smith, President of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), Marle Roberts, President of CUPE Alberta, Elisabeth Ballermann, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) and Guy Smith, President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, and Brian Mason, Leader of the Alberta New Democrats.

In addition to those unions whose representatives spoke, public sector unions represented included the Amalgamated Transit Workers (ATU), Non-Academic Staff Association at the University of Alberta (NASA), and Civil Service Union 52. Workers also came from many other sectors and unions including UNIFOR, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Workers again rallied on March 3 at 4:30 pm at the opening of the spring session of the Legislature. The Redford government has stated it will introduce the retrogressive changes to public sector pensions during the spring session. Despite the extreme cold which continued, workers rallied once more and raised their voices to demand that the government cease and desist from this assault on the right to security in retirement.

The right to security in retirement belongs to all people. The rallies exemplified the resolve of working people to defend the pensions they have and fight for pensions for all, including an expansion of the Canada Pension Plan to become a genuine defined-benefit pension plan for all at Canadian standards.

Organized resistance to the wrecking of public sector pensions continues. Workplace actions are being planned for March 20 and calls and letters to MLAs continue. If the government introduces anti-pension legislation during the spring session, which runs from March 3 to June 5, it will be met with determined mass actions at the Legislature.





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Step Up Resistance to Government
Attacks on Pensions

Alberta's Finance Minister Doug Horner in a February 24 media barrage announced certain changes to the government's attack on public sector pensions. Horner and the media falsely presented the new version of the attack as a reversal of the harmful changes earlier proposed by the government to the Local Authorities Pension Plan and the Public Service Pension Plan. The Labour Coalition on Pensions and the unions representing Alberta public sector workers quickly exposed Horner's claim and provided careful analysis showing very little has changed, least of all the government's refusal to engage in good faith negotiations based on facts not phony cries of pension doom and austerity.


Edmonton, February 24. (AFL)

Clearly, the government is feeling the heat from the workers' opposition yet continues to declare arrogantly that it will dictate whatever retrogressive changes to public sector pensions it decides. To express their opposition to this stand, leaders of public sector unions held a mock negotiating session outside Government House on February 24. Inside, provincial Finance Minister Doug Horner was conducting a behind-closed-doors secret session with provincially-appointed pension board trustees informing them of the latest changes the government would dictate to the workers and boards.

"They're taking the same bullying, 'my-way-or-the-highway' approach to pensions that they took with Bill 46 and wage settlements for public-sector workers," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said. "It's an approach that poisons relationships and leads to bad outcomes. It's also an approach that breaks the law. These guys clearly have learned nothing from the court injunction imposed on Bill 46."

The government even refused to reply to a letter from the Labour Coalition on Pensions, a coalition of unions with more than 150,000 members in the Local Authorities Pension Plan, asking for formal negotiations, union leaders said. Instead, Horner keeps presenting disinformation through the mass media to suggest a crisis surrounds pensions and the government has been forced to address an unfunded liability. This is to hide the fact that this latest attack on public sector pensions and the right to retirement security is part of the neo-liberal assault aimed at dragging all Canadians down instead of raising everyone up to defined-benefit pensions and guaranteed security in retirement at a modern Canadian standard.

In the attack on existing pensions and against the growing movement for pensions for all, the Redford government has allied with the Harperites to block any pro-social change. The neo-liberals in their mania to serve the rich and their global monopolies in opposition to workers and the public interest have refused any discussion towards defined-benefit pensions for all, especially through modernizing and strengthening the Canada Pension Plan. Instead, they have launched waves of attacks across the country on workers' existing defined-benefit pension plans.

The Workers' Opposition upholds the principle that the aim of a modern economy is to ensure the actual producers participate actively in all aspects of economic and political life according to their ability, and in exchange for their work and conscious participation in political and economic affairs, they are guaranteed a Canadian-standard of living from birth to passing away.

Defend the Pensions We Have!
Fight for Pensions for All!

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Imposed Pension Changes Miss the Mark

The public-sector pension plan changes proposed by the Alberta government are unfair, ill informed and dictatorial. It's unfair because it is gambling with the future of hundreds of thousands of working Albertans while ignoring their views. The unions representing front-line workers have made frequent requests to meet and negotiate changes, but all requests have been met with a deafening silence.

It's unfair because it means young workers today and the workers of tomorrow are being treated differently and will have to work longer for less return in their retirement.

It's also unfair because, while appearing to address the concerns of some members of plans whose jobs are physically demanding, it ignores the fact that there are many members who lift patients throughout their work day and often without any assistance. These include many HSAA professionals who work in hospitals and in the community.

Finally, the plan is ill informed. Finance Minister Doug Horner has ignored the views of the pension boards which were already working to improve the plans, it has ignored the pleas from the Auditor-General for real consultation with stakeholders, it ignored the views of independent actuaries who said the plans were sustainable without drastic changes, it has ignored the concerns of employers over the ability to hire and retain employees, and it refused to consult with the real experts, the front-line workers.

In his own statement, the minister says, "important decisions about the plan's design and finances will be made by those bearing the costs and risks" -- and yet he denies workers who bear the cost of the plan any input into the proposed changes he has just announced.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that got the government into so much trouble with a judge over Bill 46, the Public Salary Restraint Act. This government refuses to listen to expert advice, it ignores the views and rights of workers and blindly bulldozes through its ideological vision.

The government has revealed no evidence to justify these proposed changes or show whether they will work. It simply expects us to trust them. Unfortunately, their terrible track record has left little room for trust.

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Despite Government Changes,
Risk to Members' Pensions Continues

On September 16 [2013], the Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner announced plans for a series of major changes to Alberta's public service pensions, specifically including the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP), which is the main retirement savings plan for a majority of United Nurses of Alberta members.

UNA members and members of other Alberta public sector unions were gravely concerned and began a campaign of letter writing, calls and visits to MLAs to express their concerns and urge the government to change course.

On February 24, the government announced several changes to its plan to change Alberta's public service pension plans, including the LAPP.

Since then, the government has been running radio ads suggesting that it has made significant concessions.

This has left many UNA members and members of other unions with the impression the government has blinked, and the unions have won their fight. Unfortunately, this is not so.

While the government has indeed blinked, there continues to be a serious risk that the pension promise to you and your co-workers will be violated in the future.

The government and some media reports have characterized the revised government position as a reversal of previous cuts. However, a careful look makes it clear that the government's position hasn't changed very much.

In other words, the government still intends to gut our pension plan, and we need to continue to oppose the government's plans.

[...]

In his report, the Auditor General of Alberta had this to say about contribution caps: "This is an example of a threshold that could be used to achieve clarity. However, the department also needs to ensure the plans determine how these contribution rate caps will align with other plan attributes. For example, the plans will need to determine how these caps align with the objective of benefit security and investment policy."

"When a plan deficit occurs," the AG's report went on, "only current and future employees can fund the employee share over an extended period of time (e.g., 15 years). This can create inequities between past, current and future employees. Practically speaking, current and future employees will not likely pay for benefits accruing to past employees if current employees' contribution rates are significantly more than the value of their own expected pension benefits. If current and future employees will not support the plan, then the options are limited to: the employer is left to assume more of the past liability; retired employees will receive benefits that are less than promised; or the plan risks insolvency. This means changing the pension promise for current or future employees is difficult while they bear the cost and risks of benefits given to past employees."

It is not fair that one group of workers gets to keep the "85 Factor" and get a better pension plan than another for the same kind of public service. We all serve our communities, we all pay into our pensions, and we should all have pensions that operate under the same rules. This is an attempt by the Redford Government to "divide and conquer" public sector workers.

As members of a profession dominated by women, UNA members should be particularly concerned by this division. Professions dominated by men have been singled out by the Redford Government for more favourable treatment. A vital front-line health care profession has been relegated to second-class status. The Redford Government's war on pensions is a war on women!

[...]

[The statement concludes with a call for UNA members to participate in the planned events to resist the attacks on pensions and to keep up the pressure on Conservative MLAs to ensure retirement dignity for all public sector workers. For complete statement click here -- TML Editor.]

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Statement on Public Sector Pension Changes

The Redford government is still gutting our pension plan, and we need to continue to oppose their actions.

Here is a summary of the proposed changes as they currently stand:

1. Early Retirement: The Redford government is now proposing to change pension benefits so early retirement is only available to workers who are at least 60 years old and have a combined age/years of service total of 90. This is slightly better than their last proposal, as a few people may be able to retire early. But it still means working longer and likely receiving a reduced pension.

They are also making it harder to retire early with a penalty. Currently, if you retire before getting to the 85 factor (age plus years of service equal 85), there is a penalty of 3 per cent for every year you retire early. In other words, if you retire two years before hitting your 85 factor, your pension is reduced by 6 per cent. Under the Redford reforms, that penalty is increased to 5 per cent for every year of early retirement.

2. Indexing: Under current pension rules, retirees are guaranteed to have their pensions indexed to 60 per cent of inflation. The government is refusing to continue that guarantee, now characterizing cost of living increases as a "target" which will not always be implemented. This means pensioners will see the value of their pension rapidly decrease as they get older.

3. Cap on Contributions: The Redford government is still pushing for a cap on pension contributions. This could be very harmful to the health of our pension plan, particularly if there is another market crash. As long as this is on the table, no one's pension is safe from future cuts.

4. Three-Tiers of Pensions: The government is proposing three different tiers of pension plans. One for pre-2016 benefits, one for post 2016, and one for firefighters, paramedics, and corrections officers. It is not fair that one group of workers will get a better pension plan than another. We all serve our communities, we all pay into our pensions, and we should all have pensions that operate under the same rules. This is an attempt by the Redford government to "divide and conquer" public sector workers.

5. Joint Trusteeship: CUPE has long supported a pension plan where workers have an equal say with employers over the management of the fund. Alberta is far behind other provinces in not providing this method of managing public sector pensions.

The Redford government is now offering joint trusteeship -- that's a good thing. But they are insisting that the reforms mentioned above be implemented first, and that the trustees cannot make changes to them. This gives employees a say over the management of their pensions after Alison Redford has taken steps to starve the plan of funds, and after she has put pensioners into poverty.

If Alison Redford is serious about joint trusteeship -- she should implement it now, and employees and employers can negotiate changes to the plan as equal partners.

The changes announced this week are not real changes, and do not come about from discussions with employees and their representatives.

However, the changes announced this week do mean one thing -- we are making the Redford Government nervous. Conservative MLAs do not like getting angry calls and emails from public sector workers, and they are trying to appease us into silence. We have to keep up the pressure.

We need to see you at the Churchill Square rally [held March 2], and we need you to keep up the pressure on Conservative MLAs to ensure retirement dignity for you and your co-workers.

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Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Denounces Unilateral Pension Reductions

Alberta Union of Provincial Employees President Guy Smith released the following statement on the pension changes announced by the Alberta Finance Minister on Monday, February 24:

Today the Finance Minister announced that the Progressive Conservative government will move ahead unilaterally with pension reductions. Benefits have been significantly reduced, without any real consultation. Governance reform is still unaddressed, even though that was the single biggest problem identified by the Auditor General.

One of our biggest concerns now is the same that was raised by the Auditor General: that employees may leave the public service because of these changes. If that happens, it will not only harm the quality of services, but could create a run on the pension plan, significantly increasing the unfunded liability.

Minister Horner has communicated his decision that payment of cost of living adjustments will now be conditional on the performance of the plan, and that early retirement penalties have been significantly increased, from 3 per year to 5 per year. The 85 factor at age 55 has now been reduced to a 90 factor at age 60, meaning employees will have to work longer to receive an unreduced pension. These changes were not negotiated, and will be imposed unilaterally.

The Progressive Conservatives also remain committed to a contribution cap, although they have not made a final decision on this issue. We intend to continue to pressure the Minister on this issue, as it has the potential to reduce benefits not only for future members but current pensioners.

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Coming Events

Free the Cuban Five!


Edmonton
Public Meeting on the Cuban Five
Wednesday, March 5 -- 7:00 pm
Telus Centre, Room 217/219, University of Alberta (corner of 87 Ave. and 111 St.)
Access to underground parking through west side of Timms Centre (87 Ave and 112 St.);
Edmonton LRT goes to University Station, just north and west of Telus Building;
numerous city buses stop at Hub Mall, in front of the LRT station.
Organized by: Edmonton Cuba Solidarity Committee
For information: cubaedmontonsc@gmail.com, www.cubaedmontonsc.wordpress.com, Facebook


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All Out for International Women's Day!

Women's Dignity Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Calgary
International Women's Day -- Potluck Celebration
Thursday, March 6 -- 5:30-8:00 pm
Kerby Centre (1133 7th Ave SW) Calgary
Free parking is available at the Kerby Centre.
Please RSVP: Phone, (403) 264-1155, email caterina@womenscentrecalgary.org or on Facebook


Click image to enlarge.

Edmonton
International Women's Day March
Saturday, March 8 -- 2:00 pm
Corbett Hall (112 Street and 82 Avenue).
A light meal and program including speakers from labour and community organizations
will follow the march at the Luther Centre (10014 81 Avenue).
For information: www.facebook.com/IWDEdmonton, edmontoniwd@gmail.com,
or call Merryn at 780-910-1951.


Click image to enlarge.

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