Pension plan won’t be altered without opposition, union says
If the provincial government attempts to break down the public pension plan, it better be prepared for a fight with the union, its leader said Thursday.
© — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Delegates attending the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees conference in St. John’s this week joined striking workers on the Labatt Brewery picket line Thursday in a show of solidarity and support for the brewery employees, who have been on strike since April.
Carol Furlong, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees (NAPE), told a room filled with union activists that dismantling their pension plan is not up for debate.
While she said the union has agreed to discussions about the plan with the provincial government, it will not agree to ending the defined benefit pension plan.
“I have a message for our provincial government: NAPE will not agree to the erosion of the pension plan that we have worked for our entire lives,” Furlong said to roaring applause.
“I believe we can find solutions for the viability of the plan and we are prepared to work with government. … Over the past eight years we have built up the resources of our union to unprecedented levels, and we won’t hesitate to utilize those resources to ensure our public employees continue to enjoy the pension plan and retirement benefits they have worked a lifetime to achieve,” she said.
In an emailed statement to The Telegram, Finance Minister Tom Marshall said the government has informed the unions it is only considering options for the public-service pension plans as outlined in the
10-year sustainability plan, and will have discussions to ensure the plans continue.
“We all have to take steps — employer and employee — to ensure the pension plans are there for the long term to provide benefits for our retirees,” Marshall said in the email. “At present, we are only reviewing options for pension reform. Nothing has been decided upon at this time. However, we have committed that the pensions of retirees will not be affected as a result of ongoing pension reform discussions.”
He also said that as of March 31, 2012, unfunded liabilities, including unfunded pension liabilities and post-retirement benefits, accounted for about 64 per cent of the province’s net debt. Since 1997, the government has paid almost $4.5 billion in special payments to the pension plans, yet the outstanding unfunded liability continues to grow.
During Furlong’s address at NAPE’s biennial convention, she told members to heed her warning that the union will face demands that have not been seen before.
“The greatest challenge that we face today is the relentless attack by employer groups — the Board of Trade, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the employers’ council — on unionized workers and their unions with a willingness by governments to act as pawns to these right-wing groups who would see unions abolished, and workers economic well-being eroded with lower salaries, no pension, no severance pay, no sick leave, reduced EI and workers’ compensation and the list goes on,” she said during her speech.
She said the union is constantly hearing employer groups speaking out against an increase in the minimum wage and pensions plans have publicly condemned public pension plans, saying they are too rich to maintain.
She said the average Canadian pension is $16,000 after a lifetime of work and commitment.
“The history of this province is about the working poor,” Furlong said.
“Our own grandparents were treated like slave labour by fish merchants and I for one have no intention of sitting idly by and letting that happen again,” she said to loud applause.
About four busloads of NAPE members headed to Leslie Street in St. John’s later in the morning to show support for striking Labatt workers who have been off the job since April 10.
During her speech, Furlong said the company was looking to drive workers out on the street after asking them to train replacement workers to do their jobs.
“The action was designed to incite job action. Labatt is making in excess of $9 billion a year and their employees are on strike to maintain their current collective agreement. Not only do they force employees to the street, they use scab labour in an attempt to defeat those workers,” she said as the people in the room shouted, “Shame, shame.”
Furlong reminded people to maintain the boycott the union has in place, and said the tactic is working.
“We know people in this province are supporting the boycott. Why else would they have more contests on the go than the ‘Price is Right?’” she said.
The convention continues until Saturday.