In 2015, CUPE continued to work with labour movement allies, making retirement security an election issue. With the defeat of the Harper government, CPP expansion is back on the front burner. CUPE will keep advocating for a substantial and universal expanded public pension system that benefits all workers – especially the six in 10 Canadians with no workplace plan.
CUPE will also press the new government to deliver on its promise to keep eligibility for Old Age Security at age 65, scrapping Conservative plans to raise it to 67.
In two inspiring struggles this year, CUPE members beat back attacks on workplace pensions in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.
CUPE members beat back attacks on workplace pensions in NS and NL.
The 43 members of CUPE 2019 in the Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay weathered a 34-day lockout in a harsh Labrador winter to protect their defined benefit pension plan. Claiming a need to restructure the pension, the employer had proposed a divisive, two-tier plan forcing new hires into an inferior defined contribution plan.
The mayor locked the workers out, banking on an expected lack of snow. Instead, nearly six meters of snow fell in the lockout’s first two weeks. Public pressure combined with picket line solidarity helped the workers force the pension takeaways off the bargaining table, and instead negotiate changes that ensure the plan covers all members, and is sustainable.
Solidarity was also strong in Halifax, where CUPE 1431 and CUPE 227 defeated a plan by the Halifax Regional Water Commission to gut their defined benefit plan. Through a nine-week lockout, the members resisted cuts that would have hit the youngest members hardest. The dispute was a bitter one, with the employer hiring a high-priced security firm known for its strike-busting tactics.
With strong leadership and the help of CUPE pension experts, the two locals showed the cuts weren’t justified, instead developing a proposal that preserved the pension for everyone, with minimal changes for plan members earning less than $141,000 per year.
Access to pensions for precarious and part-time workers is another priority. In Ontario, through our trustees on the board, CUPE helped expand rights for part-time health care workers to join the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). As of October, there are no barriers to part-timer members joining the plan. Previously part-timers had to work a minimum number of hours and earn a minimum amount before being able to join the plan. The change opens the plan up to all part-time, contract, temporary and casual employees. This year, 12,000 new part-time members joined HOOPP, including 6,700 after the criteria were waived – a quarter of them CUPE members.
In Ontario’s university sector, the government is pushing for pension changes. Right now universities have different plans of their own. The government would like to move to some type of jointly sponsored pension plan (JSPP). Rather than waiting for legislation to dictate JSPP terms, CUPE consulted our locals and agreed to enter ‘plan building talks’ with other unions in the sector, along with the government and employers, to help shape any future plan. CUPE is pushing for the best defined benefit model possible, one that is adequately funded and available to as many workers as possible. We are also fighting for fair representation on any new sponsorship and administration structures.
Municipal workers in Regina marked the final step in protecting their defined benefit pension plan, including members of CUPE locals 7, 21, 650, 1594, 3766 and 3967. CUPE led the fight for the city to honour its pension promise to our members and other municipal unions. In March, the provincial government approved the deal, allowing the negotiated changes to be implemented.
In Saskatchewan, CUPE is also calling for increased union representation on the province-wide Municipal Employees’ Pension Plan (MEPP), making a submission to the commission reviewing the plan’s governance. In November, local presidents and executive members met to launch a fight against changes that could undermine the defined benefit nature of the MEPP.
In British Columbia, CUPE challenged the City of Maple Ridge’s practice of making CUPE 622 part-time workers pay both their share and the employer’s share of pension plan contributions. Through arbitration, we ended this long-time practice, effectively winning a raise for part-time workers who are already plan members, and making the plan more affordable for part-timers who haven’t opted in.
And in Alberta, workers at the Edmonton Women’s Shelter finally have a pension plan after a nine-year struggle. The CUPE 3341 members are now part of the Multi-Sector Pension Plan, which was established to address the lack of retirement benefits in largely female-dominated workplaces. The workers are the first from a women’s shelter to enrol.