By Terry Inigo-Jones,
Pension funds financially healthy? Check.
Joint governance of pensions plans achieved? Check.
After fighting off attacks on modest pension plans and decades of pushing for a say in how those funds are run, AUPE members were finally starting to feel safe. Things were looking good.
Then along came Kenney.
That’s Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who rode into town and introduced legislation to change how those funds were governed and started talking about paring back those modest pensions.
Once again, more than 420,000 Albertans are starting to lose their sense of security and certainty – afraid that the Alberta government is changing something that works well and in ways that are not in the best interests of the people most directly affected, the workers.
You can read more about the UCP meddling in your pension plans here.
Briefly, Bill 22, the Reform of Agencies, Boards and Commissions and Government Enterprises Act:
- Took seats on the board of the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP) away from AUPE and gave them to non-union employees;
- Said unions no longer have the sole authority to make their own appointments to pensions boards including LAPP and the Public Service Pension Plan (PSPP), but that they must be approved by the Lieutenant Governor; and
- Removed the right of pension funds to switch management of investments away from AIMCo (an investment manager and Crown corporation of the Alberta government) if they feel they could get better returns elsewhere.
Bruce Macdonald, 63, is a life member of AUPE. He retired from his 33-year career as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) seven months ago. He says he’s concerned about what’s happening to pensions in Alberta and that the province is considering pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP).
A member of the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP), he’s worried that the government is undermining the voice that members have in the governance of the plan.
“I believe it is our pension plan, so we need to look after the needs of the members of LAPP and the members of other plans, not the needs of government,” says Macdonald, a former Chapter Chair of Local 046/Chapter 001 and former member of AUPE’s Provincial Executive.
“Investments need to be balanced. You can’t put all your eggs in one basket. You know what happens. We’ve seen it.”
AUPE vice-president Bobby-Joe Borodey says that the LAPP and PSPP plans to which most AUPE members belong are healthy and well funded.
“This interference in how pension funds operate is wrong. We need to remember that these are not government funds. This is not money from taxation. These are the retirement savings of working Albertans, the money we will need to keep a roof over our heads, to buy groceries and pay for medications when we stop working. This money has to last us the rest of our lives.
“Members are afraid that Kenney wants to gamble with it. It would be a big mistake to put to the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Albertans at risk.”
Because LAPP is a defined-benefit plan, Macdonald was able to plan his retirement knowing exactly how much his pension would give him every month. He was able to make a decision based on real numbers, on a guaranteed income.
Borodey says: “With a defined-contribution plan or with Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) investments, you’re retiring on a hunch. In effect, you’re hoping that if you retire now, the markets will do well enough over the rest of your life to give you enough money to live. If you’re wrong and the markets take a tumble, you might not have enough money to pay for what you need.”
Macdonald says: “Let’s be honest. If I didn’t have a (defined-benefit) pension plan, I would be at work today. … I would probably have to work another 10 years.”
His work as an LPN at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton was “a very physical, very mental, very emotional job at times, most times. … I wouldn’t want to be working in the hospital at age 70. … Everything we do is critical. You need someone who can handle the job, the stress, the high tech that’s happening these days. At 70? Nuh-uh.”
AUPE members have always been protective of their pensions. When asked what issues they will fight for, what issues they will strike for, pensions are always top of the list.
Are workers right to fear for the future of their pensions?
In a TV interview in January, Kenney identified benefits, including pensions, as something that could be pared back. Of course, the threat to jobs, the threat of contracting out and wage cuts are all still part of his grand scheme.
“Attacks on the modest but fair pensions of public-sector workers by conservative governments is nothing new,” says Borodey.
“Premier Alison Redford tried in in 2013. Members of AUPE and other workers rose against that attack and won. We need to do the same today to protect our pensions, our jobs and the services upon which Albertans rely.”
Macdonald was part of that pensions fight in 2013 and joined a large protest rally at in Edmonton on a bitterly cold day, one of dozens of protests around the province.
“It was -40 degrees … Yes, we were cold. It didn’t matter. We were standing there for a purpose. Our purpose was to give them a message – and we did.”
The message got through. Premier Redford was replaced by Jim Prentice and the pension changes were halted.
Even though he’s now retired, Macdonald will fight once more if the government targets pensions again.
“I’ll be there. I’ll be there to support the unions and to ensure that we keep our pension plans.”