Brian Edgecombe & Kevin Skerrett | CUPE Research

CUPE locals across the country have faced strong pressures and even direct attacks on their established defined benefit pension plans in recent years.

As the union works to defend and expand good pension coverage for members, the absence of comprehensive data on existing pension coverage has made it difficult to assess our progress.

That’s why CUPE has established a new CUPE Pension Database Project, with a goal to incorporate this in the new collective agreement module of our Member Relationship Management System. The initial data content is limited, but the system is designed to be expandable. Now we can systematically track what kind of pension our members have, in locals across the country, whether it is a defined benefit plan, defined contribution plan or some other kind of plan. We can also track which members aren’t covered by a plan at all.

Our initial data collection allows us to report some immediate results. All told, almost 92 per cent of our members have some kind of registered pension plan (RPP).

As shown in Table 1, we now know that 66.74 per cent of CUPE members belong to locals with access to secure, defined benefit plans. While we know that a large majority of the members of these locals are either automatically enrolled or voluntarily choose to join the plan, there are some part-time, temporary, or casual workers, including for example university contract instructors, who do not meet specified plan eligibility requirements (usually defined as certain scheduled hours-per-week, or hours or earnings in a previous year).

The rest of CUPE members with an RPP include members with defined contribution, target, hybrid or other kinds of plans. These other kinds of plans may be less secure, but at least there is some measure of coverage, and generally a kind that could still be improved (through increased contributions, or upgrades to a more secure model).

With this data, we can now pinpoint precisely which locals are in the other eight per cent that has no coverage at all, and consider even more focused strategies for bringing pension coverage to those groups.

These CUPE coverage figures also allow us to compare this picture to some broad figures compiled by Statistics Canada for the public sector as a whole. Table 2 shows that just over 89 per cent of public sector workers participate in some kind of registered plan, slightly less than the CUPE membership figure. Given that the CUPE membership does include a component in the private sector (for example, in the airlines sector), these figures are impressive.  

However, we still have our work cut out for ourselves. At our 2007 national convention, the Strategic Directions policy framework committed the union to working to establish pension coverage for all CUPE members. Since that time, we have been working to negotiate locals with no coverage (or only RRSPs) into successful plans, such as the Multi-Sector Pension Plan (MSPP).  

With our new database, we are now able to re-double these efforts and hopefully, in the near future, achieve our ambitious goal of securing good pension coverage for all members.