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  5. Pensions and Retirement Security

Pensions and Retirement Security

Building a secure pension future together

Unifor members are rightfully proud of their bargained workplace pensions. Ensuring adequate and secure retirement income for all is at the heart of a crucial challenge we face as a union: designing and delivering future retirement security in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible for our members and retirees.

Achieving decent and secure pensions has always been a key objective in collective bargaining, and is increasingly important given growing life expectancy. Everybody deserves to retire and receive retirement income that is adequate for them to maintain their living standards, achieve relief from work, and have a  ecent life in the community. It must also be secure; retirees should not be worried whether they will out-live their retirement income.

Unifor recognizes the foundation of workers’ retirement security is the universal pension to which every worker in Canada is entitled: the Canada or Quebec Pension Plans (“C/QPP”). Unifor campaigned hard for improvements to the C/QPP in 2016 but we recognize those improvements are not enough, and Unifor continues to press for enhancements.

Our union now faces a critical challenge to strategically re-examine our role into the future around workplace pension models. We need to learn from the key practical lessons and success factors found in other Canadian  models of workplace pensions. We cannot simply continue to rely so strongly on corporations or the financial
services industry to provide members with retirement income security. We know corporations are trying to abandon the defined benefit (DB) pension model, which is the most secure and stable form of pension plan that provides a guaranteed pension amount in retirement.

Many corporate workplace DB pensions have been closed, and now new members are only offered a defined contribution (DC) plan. Corporations have also lobbied hard to reduce their funding obligations to DB plans, leaving them ever more vulnerable to corporate bankruptcies. The Sears case is the most recent example of underfunded corporate-sponsored pension plans leaving members short on adequate and secure pensions.

Solidarity for a secure future for all

Solidarity and inter-generational equity are both absolutely critical to confronting these challenges at the bargaining table. We cannot allow corporations to try to trade-off pension security for false promises of job security when Unifor has both the scale and strength to play a leadership role in ensuring retirement security for members.

We need to directly tackle ongoing attempts to deploy two-tier pension plans that divide workers by generations, as well as dividing active plan members from retirees. The legacy we leave for future generations should be a sustainable and secure workplace pension for everyone.

Everybody deserves to retire and receive retirement income that is adequate for them to maintain their living standards, achieve relief from work, and have a decent life in the community.

Our active members of all generations, and retirees, should know that Unifor has their backs. We know that we cannot win this struggle without the support and determination of retirees and ‘new hire’ members.

Building our future from the legacy of our past

Union mergers over many decades that created the unions that then created Unifor, resulted in a multitude of small pension pools, often with Unifor trustees involved in governance. We need to ask the critical question: Would consolidating these legacy plans help to ensure efficient administration and yield greater benefits for our members and retirees? We need Industry Council leadership to work with their affiliated Locals to continue to identify these opportunities, and work with the national union to develop appropriate alternatives.

The role of Industry Councils

Our Industry Councils are vital to developing sectorial strategies to rebuild the security, adequacy and equity of our workplace pensions. As we move to secure adequate pensions for our members and retirees, our Industry Councils will be asked to assess the opportunities and challenges within their sector, reflecting on recent  developments while building to consolidate and strengthen our efforts as a union to ensure sustainable, adequate and equitable pensions.

We will need to challenge ourselves moving forward into the next round of bargaining to consider the opportunities to transform existing pension structures. Industry Councils should directly address the following questions:

• What is the pension standard for the sector in terms of contributions from the employer (and workers) towards their pension; the basic pension benefit earned and the value added for members by a good pension that will be the focus to achieve for the whole sector?

• What role will existing target benefit pension plans sponsored by Unifor play as we chart our future direction and strategies for this sector?

• Would a common larger-scale, high-quality plan identifiable with the ‘Unifor platform’ work across the sector, recognizing that our union has a diverse membership, and that such a platform would need to add value for members and address workplace needs ranging from those without any pension coverage, to those with  existing inferior RRSP and DC plans?

• Are there any relevant lessons from the experience of large plans in the broader public sector that should inform our efforts to ensure adequate and secure retirement pensions for all Unifor members?

Unifor pension plan coverage (type of plan by percentage of members)
Defined benefit: 24%
Hybrid defined benefit and defined contribution: 26%
Jointly-sponsored, multi-employer: 19%
Defined contribution or RRSP: 29%
Other: 1%
None: 1%
TOTAL 100%

Our bargaining priorities

In support of our efforts to build a secure pension future for all, Unifor will:

Continue to support Locals in the defense, improvement, and expansion of existing workplace pensions.

Continue work already underway to develop a common Unifor pension platform capable of offering the capacity, scale and efficiency to build and strengthen workplace pension plans.

Negotiate and strengthen pension bridge benefits based on age 65 as the normal age of retirement (not based on Old Age Security benefit eligibility).

Promote social media and workplace conversations around pension literacy leading into and during our bargaining to bring awareness around the challenges we face to our members and the wider community.

Success stories

New Flyer (Local 3003): Members thwarted an attempt to change their retirement landscape and negotiated an agreement that included defined benefit plan improvements into the future with an increase in each year of  a five-year agreement.

Bombardier Aerospace (Locals 112 and 673): The combined effort of Local 112 and Local 673 members resulted in the successful continuation of the tradition of maintaining and negotiating annual improvements to their defined benefit plan.

Toronto Star and Post Media (Local 87 – M): Aligning with our organization’s broader vision towards a secure and adequate pension benefit, our members unanimously approved an asset transfer to CAAT that will provide a reliable retirement benefit in a legacy news print industry that has been challenged with declining readership and ad revenues.

The IPS Auto Parts Council placed the issues of pensions and retirement income security on their bargaining program as a key priority issue. The 2017 IPS bargaining conference adopted a minimum floor of a 4 per cent employer contribution and enhancements to current pension plan to achieve a 40 per cent income replacement target.

Caesars Casino (Local 444): The committee negotiated that gratuities would be treated as pensionable in select classifications at the casino. Gratuities represent a substantial portion of a gaming workers’ income.  Amending the existing pension plan to include gratuities is a tremendous win for our Caesars members and an achievement that other gaming bargaining committees are looking to replicate.

Brink’s (multiple Locals): Going into the last round of bargaining, Brink’s was determined to end participation in the defined benefit plan for new hires. The bargaining committee resisted and managed to preserve access to the plan.

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