P.E.I. pension fight heading to court, union warns

Teresa Wright
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Union of Public Sector Employees Debbie Bovyer speaks to a crowd of protestors from the steps of the Coles Building next to Province House about 5 p.m. Friday.

Tipping point for union was provision that gives province immunity from any future legal action

The P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees wants to move ahead with a legal challenge of the province’s pension reforms.

Union president Debbie Bovyer says the union’s legal team believes they may have a valid argument against the P.E.I. government’s pension changes.

“The advice that we’re getting is that we potentially have rights here to file a lawsuit,” Bovyer said Monday.

“If at all possible, we will be moving forward.”

Bovyer says it was a new provision that gives the province immunity from any future legal action over its pension reforms contained within the legislation tabled last week that has led her to believe a legal challenge is warranted.

“That is the tipping point for me. That’s underhanded,” she said.

“I don’t like when people take other people’s rights away. It’s just being bullies. It’s terrible what they’re doing.”

Last week, the province tabled legislation that will enshrine into law its plans to reform to public sector pensions changes that include the elimination of guaranteed indexing and moving to a career average for calculation of pension benefits.

One new provision in the act protects government from liability a move that could block any future legal challenges or grievances.

“I believe it’s taking away the democratic process,” Bovyer said.

“I’m quite fascinated that a provincial government would try to legislate rights away from Islanders that they’re elected to represent.”

UPSE filed a grievance against the government three weeks ago, saying the changes to pensions violate the union’s collective agreement with the province.

The union is concerned new immunity provision would not only eliminate future grievances, but could also kill the current one.

Both UPSE and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have been fighting the changes a fight that has included ad campaigns and a protest that saw over 400 people calling for government to go back to the negotiating table.

CUPE national representative Bill McKinnon said the immunity provision in the legislation is concerning.

CUPE is also obtaining a legal opinion.

“The question we have is, if you have liability concerns about your new plan, if you didn’t you wouldn’t need this immunity legislation,” McKinnon said.

“That’s going to be part of our discussions with our legal folks, to see if that’s appropriate.”

McKinnon and other CUPE representatives held a meeting with Finance Minister Wes Sheridan Monday to outline their key concerns over the pension reforms.

CUPE and UPSE would like to have joint trusteeship of the pension fund, but although Sheridan has indicated he is open to this down the road, if changes go ahead as planned, there is very little role for the union to play in managing the fund, McKinnon said.

“Our concern about joint trusteeship under their model is all the triggers are already in place and we’re really just limited in governance.”

Mark Janson, another CUPE national representative who has been working with the union on pension reform in other provinces, attended the meeting Monday. He said he is concerned over Sheridan’s proposed changes because Sheridan is trying a new funding model one that over-funds the pension plan to 122 per cent.

The finance minister says this builds a financial cushion that would pay for any losses in the fund.

Janson says this is a model that has never been tested.

“It’s a new way of providing security, it’s untested in Canada, we have reason to be suspicious of it, whereas on the other hand we have this jointly sponsored model that’s worked very, very well throughout the (economic) crisis.”

Sheridan understands the unions’ concerns, but he feels his reforms better meet his responsibility to protect civil servants pensions while also being prudent with taxpayer’s dollars.

As for the concerns over his immunity provision, Sheridan says it will protect not only government, but also union representatives that sit on advisory committees that oversee the pension plan as well as the plan itself.

“We need to protect our membership and we need to protect the plan,” Sheridan said.

“The plan covers all of these costs and we need those dollars in that plan to make sure that we’re paying out pensions.”

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Canadian Union of Public Employees, P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees

Geographic location: P.E.I., Canada

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • don
    December 03, 2013 - 17:28

    Bill Kays just wait till we are back in to the 1930 where they will be BROKE they will have NO power and it will happen sooner then they think.

  • DON'T STOP FIGHTING
    December 03, 2013 - 16:11

    Don't stop fighting . just read the other article where the MLA's are getting raises . Shows you how totally arrogant and self centered this man can be. Makes me sick everytime I see his smug face in the papers. If you give in now he will take everything.

  • Lawyers Win
    December 03, 2013 - 14:24

    This is a huge surprise, UPSE is going to waste Island taxpayers money by taking their wage payers to court. Bravo, bravo

  • Not that they listen . . .
    December 03, 2013 - 13:05

    Almost 80% of readers, by virtue of The Guardian's own poll, think pension reform will be the most debated topic in the P.E.I. Legislature. So, how about a few more polls on that topic, especially on the issue of Sheridan's immunity provision?

  • SlyFox
    December 03, 2013 - 12:59

    Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body.

  • Wolf in Black Sheep's Clothing
    December 03, 2013 - 09:33

    I'd like to hear what the premier and finance minister think the function of the court system is in this province. Imagine if the government passed a law that prohibited a corporation from seeking a judicial remedy after funding was "adjusted" for an important partnership initiative. It simply wouldn't happen. But, it is happening while negotiating with workers. Thing is, this is a Liberal government - what the hell does liberal mean anyway? This is as right-wing conservative/republican as it can get! Given the fiscal situation workers find themselves, changes to the pension program have to be considered and probably made. However, this immunity provision not only attempts to legally sanction self-interest and greed, it dispels any notion of liberalism.

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      December 03, 2013 - 10:28

      Hey Wolf, I am glad someone here understands that this is part of a global agenda to redistribute wealth. The parties are irrelevant as the bankers and power brokers march on with their fascist partnerships on top of a growing socialist agenda of slavery. But no one seems to care about "others" until they themselves join the group. To many, the attitude seems to be as follows "injustice is ok if it is happening to someone else but me". Otherwise we would all be up in arms over this and previous government's fiscal decisions.

    • don
      December 03, 2013 - 10:37

      we have NEVER had in PEI history a government that was not interested in the people that pats there wages and the pension that i am sure will go up soon plus a pay increase i'm sure in 2014. plus more new cars. but the patronage that ghiz PROMISED would NOT HAPPEN in his government. plus he said his government is here for the people not like the binns government. well ghiz i would hate to see your government not here for the people. oh hold it you are your government is here for ghiz and the big money liberals. but remember this the people you stabbed in the back will be the same people you will see when you are nothing and have no power.

    • yawn
      December 04, 2013 - 09:12

      bad Alex Jones imitator.

  • Joe Islander
    December 03, 2013 - 08:00

    I am in support of pension reform as it is not sustainable with the current model. However, Wes looks to be taking a page out of the federal government playbook by trying to lump in other provisions that would never pass the sniff test on there own.

  • voter
    December 03, 2013 - 07:11

    thieves--take each and every one of them to court -individually

  • Tim Yorke
    December 03, 2013 - 07:02

    Great for the union , gov is simply not telling the truth , then to try and pass underhanded legislation protecting them is just wrong . The combined unions have a great plan to satisfy all needs .

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      December 03, 2013 - 10:18

      You are right Tim in that they are not telling people the whole truth. You see, they believe that the public could not WITHSTAND THE TRUTH, so they tell you anything BUT THE TRUTH, so help me God. If you think the courts will side along with you on this matter, think again. They invested (gambled) in the bad stock / real estate derivatives (based on bad advice from bad advisors and stake holders) and now they are looking to the public to reimburse them through higher taxation and austerity measures. Now they do want to CONFESS THEIR SIN and take their political death blows. Now I understand my child when they say they are sorry for getting caught with either their hand in the cookie jar or the mismanagement of public funds and breach of public trust.

  • brian
    December 03, 2013 - 06:47

    mp's on the island are over paid and benefits including pensions are too much .they shouldn't get pensions until they have 20 yrs in politics and in line with other public servants pensions in terms of monies paid

    • Bill Kays
      Bill Kays
      December 03, 2013 - 10:08

      Brian, yes, MPs are overpaid, they should work for nothing if they truly love PUBLIC SERVICE. They should never receive pensions and there should be term limits on the number of years of PUBLIC SERVICE.

  • AnonymousIslander
    December 03, 2013 - 05:50

    And the PEINU says?

    • Anita McCabe
      December 03, 2013 - 12:21

      The PEINU had already sent out a detailed letter to each of its members explaining that it invested a great deal of time reviewing the change in pension format and consulted their own financial people on this. In the end, they opted to accept the outlined pension reform as it viewed it as the only sustainable option to ensure its members have access to pension funds in the decades, not just years, to come. While I understand the many accusations of foul play on the part of the government in managing funds in the past, I choose not to go there. I do respect the process however, and hope that the union(s) have an opportunity to be heard. We are where we are now and have to move forward from where we are; not where we "should" be. I have been encouraging PEINU members, and all those affected by pension changes, to first attend a pension reform education session offered by Health PEI and second to consult a financial adviser at their preferred financial institution to help them understand what they should be doing on their own to shore up potential loss of retirement income. People really need to understand in plain language the implications of an 'average' salary calculation versus 'best years' calculation and how things such as reduction of hours to part-time now affect their pension.

  • don
    December 03, 2013 - 04:56

    ask yourself why does wes need to protect themselves from "provision that gives province immunity from any future legal action"? something in the contract you are missing? maybe as long as was has full control he can use the money with out the union being able to stop him. as you all know he loves money and loves to give it away. maybe that's why he needs to protect themselves. and to think how many members of yours voted them back in. so really you have no one to blame but yourselves. but good luck in court.

    • hmmmm
      December 03, 2013 - 08:30

      Because Steven Meyers is the ideal premier? You have low standards.

    • voter
      December 03, 2013 - 11:21

      sadly , myers is better than what we have

    • to voter
      December 04, 2013 - 08:48

      Don't toke and post.