The full, un-edited podcast of the Honour Our Deal town hall, September 8, 2014
On the evening of September 8, nearly a thousand community members, City of Regina employees and retirees packed Regina’s Conexus Arts Centre to discuss the state of the Regina Civic Employees Superannuation and Benefit Plan. The plan represents 4,000 current employees – including teaching assistants, librarians, firefighters, bus drivers, city workers and managers – and over 3,000 retirees. The Plan has been in place since 1958.
A month ago, workers were stunned as the Saskatchewan Superintendent of Pensions announced that it was considering winding up the plan because of a funding shortfall. A full account of these developments was published on RankandFile.ca on August 20 by organizers who helped to launch a public campaign, Honour Our Deal.
Panelists at Monday night’s event included Paul Moist (CUPE National President), Kirby Benning (President of the Saskatchewan Firefighters Association and Chair of the Pension and Benefit Committee), Kevin Skerrit (CUPE pension researcher), Simon Archer (legal counsel with the law firm Koskie Minsky), along with Tria Donaldson (CUPE Communications, Saskatchewan), who spoke about the importance of community and membership engagement as part of the Honour Our Deal movement. Aina Kagis, CUPE’s Regional Director for Saskatchewan, moderated the panel.
In private and public sector workplaces across Canada, pensions have become some of the most contested benefits. Since at least the financial collapse of 2008, austerity has remained the mantra of even profitable employers who seek massive concessions from unions and workers when it comes to defined benefit plans in particular. (Read RankandFile.ca’s Pension 101 article from July 30 for a breakdown of pension-related concepts and definitions.) Regina has become a site for just such a conflict. But what makes the development in Saskatchewan’s capital so significant is that the Superintended of Pensions has threatened the unprecedented – a complete windup of a (viable) public pension plan. CUPE President, Paul Moist, noted that not since Air Canada’s brush with bankruptcy in 2004 has a company attempted to completely absolve itself of pension obligations by dissolving a plan. Even then, the justice who oversaw the near-collapse of Canada’s flagship airline rebuked the company’s request.
Here in Regina, it is clear that the employer is seeking a massive change in the current pension agreement by reversing its commitment to a defined benefit plan. What panelists, and members from the audience, recognized is that this is quite simply an employer seeking to back away from a generation-long promise for the sake of financial expedience. Worst of all, for those pensioners who rely on the Civic plan as part of a dignified retirement, the fulfillment of the Superintendent’s threat would ignominiously rob retirees of their bargained reward for a lifetime of service and labour. But amidst the justifiable anxiety and fear that loomed over Monday’s forum, panelists and event organizers made it clear that the fight for fairness is far from over.
As a final speaker, Tria Donaldson took the podium to emphasize that Honour Our Deal is not only an information campaign, it is a call to action for unions, community members, and City workers to stand up for what is theirs. Considering the political significance of pensions, be they workplace benefits, CPP, or Old Age Security, it’s important that the general public recognize their role in helping to mobilize for a livable retirement wage. This can only be achieved through civic engagement, activism, and collective bargaining.
If you missed the town hall or just want to follow the event, check out the podcast of the panel and Q&A period after the presentations.
Part 1: Introductions and presentations[audio:http://rankandfile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/HOD_RF_1.mp3|titles= Honour Our Deal town hall part 1]
Part 2: Concluding remarks and questions from the audience[audio:http://rankandfile.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/HOD_RF_2.mp3|titles= Honour Our Deal town hall part 2]