After 36 years of backbreaking labour at SickKids Hospital, patient service aid Leonora Foster has one goal before ending her career: to secure a decent pension plan for herself and her co-workers to escape the clutches of poverty in her sunset years. 

The staff at the hospital in downtown Toronto are predominantly women and many are racialized. Foster says they are stricken that despite their decades of selfless support to sick children, the hospital has a pension plan that fails its workforce.

On June 25th, Foster led a rally outside SickKids demanding her employer sign onto the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP). SickKids and St. Mary’s General Hospital are the only two hospitals in Ontario that are not part of HOOPP, although the latter recently committed to joining the pension plan. OPSEU staff at SickKids led by Tina Henderson also participated in the action.

“SickKids staff are retiring into poverty. In fact, there are workers who are delaying retirement into their late 60s and 70s because they can’t afford to stop working,” says Foster. “We work ourselves to death because we cannot afford to retire. How is that fair?”

According to the union, HOOPP is far superior to the SickKids pension plan. 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, about $8,000 more than the SickKids pension plan.

“This hospital has built a reputation as a world-class institution on the strength of the contribution of these women. SickKids must ensure its staff have a secure retirement,” says Michael Hurley, President of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, which represents about 50,000 CUPE hospital workers including the members of CUPE 2816.

“Other hospitals in Ontario can manage it and SickKids can too. Sick Kids cannot continue to exploit a workforce that cares so much and so well for sick children,” Hurley says.

SickKids’ pension plan is inferior partly because the hospital has been on a pension holiday since 1997 except for a two-year period between March 2020 until December 2022, according to CUPE.

Foster says SickKids staff will send a strong message to management at the upcoming rally and a mobilizing campaign over the next few months, until the hospital takes this issue seriously.