After more than a year of appeals to SickKids management virtually fell on deaf ears, the exasperated health care workers held a rally outside the hospital demanding a decent pension plan on Tuesday, April 9. They were joined by over 200 delegates attending the annual convention of Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE) in downtown Toronto.

The CUPE 2816 members are unhappy with the threadbare retirement benefits accorded by SickKids’ standalone pension plan. All other hospitals in Ontario have their staff enrolled in Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), which offers much superior benefits. The union has raised the issue with SickKids multiple times over the past year and a half but to no avail.

“We find it disheartening that SickKids does not care about our future. How can the hospital claim to be a leading pediatric health care centre, when its workers are doomed to a retirement in poverty?” said Leonora Foster, a patient service aide at the hospital and president of CUPE 2816.

The difference between the two plans is significant. A worker earning $45,000 at the end of their career with 30 years of service can expect to receive annual payments of $25,560 through HOOPP, but merely $17,550 via the SickKids pension plan. HOOPP also provides more generous spousal benefits and is indexed to inflation, whereas the SickKids plan’s annual increase only covers 75 per cent of cost-of-living increases.

One reason for the inferiority of the SickKids pension plan is the hospital taking a “pension holiday” and making no contributions for many years, according to CUPE. In comparison, HOOPP has improved its benefits in recent years.

“We are simply asking for parity with other hospital staff in Ontario. If other hospitals can provide a decent retirement plan, why not SickKids?” said Foster. “After a lifetime of caring for vulnerable children and their families, it’s only fair that we live out our sunset years with dignity. No one deserves to be insecure in their old age.”

“When a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto costs $2,400 a month and the pension after 30 years of loyal service to SickKids is $1,400 a month, these retired workers will live and die in poverty. We expect SickKids to live up to its well-deserved reputation of being a world class hospital and to treat its staff at least as well as all the other hospitals in this province. The campaign for justice for these workers will be unrelenting,” said Michael Hurley, president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU-CUPE).

“With this demonstration we put SickKids on notice that other hospital workers stand in solidarity with SickKids staff. We will not stop campaigning until the hospital brings its staff up to the pension standard for all hospital staff in Ontario,” says Sharon Richer, secretary-treasurer of OCHU-CUPE.

CUPE 2816 represents about 750 workers at the hospital including patient service aides, housekeepers, food service workers, building operators, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, painters, mechanics, and others.