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CUPE 5791 members from the University of Regina came out in full force to learn about their pension plan yesterday. The town hall featured panelists Simon Archer, a member of the Koskie Minsky Pension and Benefits Practice Group; and Kevin Skerrett, CUPE national senior researcher and pension specialist.

The Local held the town hall to inform members and clarify incomplete and possibly misleading information that the employer had sent to all members. CUPE 5791 members have always had a secure defined benefit plan, but the employer wants to address an unexpected plan funding deficit by implementing a new system where future pension service would be earned under a new high-risk defined contribution type plan.

Simon Archer told the more than 200 participants that their current level of contributions is enough to cover the current value of benefits. He explained how pension plans measure their health by doing evaluations and that most defined benefit pension plans are experiencing a deficit of some sort. He pointed out that conditions that create deficits can and do change over time.

Archer noted that the University is solely responsible for paying any deficit arising from the plan and that the terms of the plan do not require any employee contributions or cuts to benefits to pay for a plan deficit. “It’s required by law, unless you have a different agreement,” said Archer.

Skerrett talked about what causes pension plan funding issues, and warned that changing the pension plan structure was a very serious warning sign that could even end up as a two-tiered compensation model where newly-hired workers are enrolled in an inferior plan.

New employees with a less secure pension plan would be working beside people with a defined benefit plan,” said Skerrett. “What would that look like in ten years? Later on down the road in bargaining the employer may want to diminish the pension plan for those with defined benefit.”

Skerrett talked about proposed provincial government changes to solvency for public sector pension plans that would provide relief in funding. Since the risk of bankruptcy is so low for the public sector, the Saskatchewan government is looking at following what other governments are doing and lowering their requirements for solvency. 

Members asked questions including about the legal implications of the employer in making statements considered by some to be misleading; whether the University has the right to lower pension benefit rates; and what additional contributions would be needed going forward so that enough was paid for future benefits. One member thanked the Local for holding the town hall and noted that this is a very important issue.

CUPE 5791 President Brad Martin thanked the union members of the NABC, the committee that discusses potential plan changes and makes recommendations to the University. Plan changes can only be done with the consent of plan members but can be discussed by either party in collective bargaining.

We want to work with the employer to help address the projected plan deficit,” says Martin. “But plan changes need to be addressed at the bargaining table. Our members are entitled to all the facts before decisions are made that will impact their retirement years.”

The pension town hall was videotaped and will be available to members who were unable to attend.