AUPE members showed governments of all kinds the folly of attacking our pensions
It is easy to focus on bad news stories, especially when those stories are about something as important as our jobs and livelihoods, but we should celebrate the good union news, too. After all, the labour movement and its history would not exist if nothing good ever happened. Not every union story ends in layoffs or lockouts.
This story from ten years ago is of a victory worth remembering.
In 2013, the Government of Alberta, led by former premier Alison Redford, made an enemy of Albertans when she declared war on their pensions.
“Honestly, it made me sick,” says AUPE Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jason Heistad. “Premier Redford had just spoken to us at AUPE’s 2012 Convention, the first time a premier had ever done so, only to turn her back on us with an attempt to demolish our pensions.”
Redford tried to pass it all off as minor adjustments, as nothing to worry about. Not true. Local Authority Pension Plan and Public Service Pension Plan members would have had to reorganize their entire retirement to make ends meet—nearly impossible for some of us—and all future pension plan members would have been impacted as well.
Redford’s proposed changes would have severely punished those who retired early. She also wanted to end the ‘85 Factor,’ which allows members to retire with full benefits if their retirement age plus years of service adds up to 85. Overall, our pensions would have lost 25 per cent or more of their value had Redford’s plan succeeded.
“Honestly, it made me sick. Premier Redford had just spoken to us at AUPE’s 2012 Convention, the first time a premier had ever done so, only to turn her back on us with an attempt to demolish our pensions.”
AUPE challenged Redford’s proposals, of course, but members knew better than to leave their retirement plans in the hands of lawyers and the courts, which were not guaranteed to rule in our favour. Instead, AUPE members took hold of their future themselves.
We mobilized like our lives depended on it—because they did. Members held 49 town halls across the province, from Medicine Hat to Sherwood Park to Grande Prairie, where we and our supporters organized to stop Redford’s attack on our pensions.
“It was unlike anything we’ve done,” says Heistad. “Members turned out en masse at town halls and rallies to defend their pensions from Redford’s unprecedented attacks.”
Redford eventually got caught up in numerous scandals, which led to her resignation in March 2014. However, you could easily argue that her downfall started with our pension fight. There is no easier path to infamy than threatening an entire province worth of workers and the future they worked hard for.
We kept fighting even after Redford’s resignation, and you know what? We won.
Now, ten years later, a new premier has begun threatening our pensions. Danielle Smith has asked her new Minister of Finance, Nate Horner, to work on pulling Alberta out of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and waste time and money creating their own Alberta Pension Plan.
Premier Smith has alarmed more than just AUPE members with this scheme, a scheme she downplayed during the recent election but has now resurrected. Albertans do not have time for the risky and expensive political games Smith would use to leave the CPP.
“Premier Smith should stop for a moment and learn something from history,” says Heistad. “If her government attacks our pensions and livelihoods, she will hear AUPE members thunder across this province like never before.”
Perhaps the moral of the story is that, when AUPE members work together and fight for what we deserve, we have the power to turn a villain’s schemes into a happy ending.