The employer was demanding a cut to pension benefits by one-third on a go-forward basis. Under this scheme, workers would keep their already accrued pension earnings while earning benefits at a reduced rate moving forward. This amounts to a two-tier pension system where long-time employees see a slight reduction to the value of their pension while new and future hires will earn the reduced rate for close to their entire career. This arrangement would disproportionately hurt young workers.
From the employers perspective the strategy is about more than simply cost reduction. It is about driving a wedge between workers, breaking solidarity and weakening the bargaining unit for future negotiations. By placing a greater burden of the pension cuts on new employees and future hires, the employer was betting that the older members, who comprise the majority, would not act in the interest of defending the pensions of younger workers.
Standing up to employers in these types of negotiations requires more than assessing immediate concerns, it requires a long term view of the effects of the agreement. Kevin Skerrett, a pension researcher for CUPE, participated in the negotiations. “The bargaining team understood the weight of the struggle,” said Skerrett. “The proposal was detrimental to everyone in both locals and especially so for the younger workers. Giving in to the employer’s demands would have set a terrible precedent and weakened the bargaining unit and the union moving forward.”
Members remained united in the end, and successfully defended their pensions in the lock-out public sector pensions have been under attack for the past decade. Claiming that existing pensions schemes are unsustainable, employers seek to slash pensions first and foremost for young workers. What the locals in Halifax have shown is that when it comes to protecting the pensions of all members CUPE is prepared to fight and win.