Across northern and eastern Ontario on Sept. 20, members wanted to get in on the conversation about pensions – how to safeguard their retirement savings and secure pensions for those who don’t have them. In OPSEU’s first-ever Telephone Town Halls, members had the chance to listen, ask questions, and vote on poll questions.
Callers did not mince words when they heard details of Premier Dalton McGuinty’s plan to take control of public-sector pension plans in a bid to cut the government’s costs.
“This is pre-meditated profiteering,” said OPSEU Region 5 Vice-President Nancy Pridham. “He wants to take successful, well-managed funds that are jointly controlled by workers and employers and are very successful, and mix them together with poorly-run employer-controlled funds. And he wants Bay Street money managers who only care about profits to take over from worker trustees who have the interests of members at heart.”
Pridham and OPSEU Region 2 Vice-President Mike Grimaldi are leading OPSEU’s pension fight. They joined OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas, who moderated the town hall meetings.
Callers were concerned about their pensions for current and future retirees, including younger workers who will be hit hard if the government goes ahead with proposed changes.
Many callers asked what they can do to push the government back. A Town Hall poll showed members are motivated to fight back. Eight of 10 audience members said they will take at least two actions to push McGuinty to abandon his attack on pensions and instead take positive action to secure pensions for more people. All audience members said they will do something.
OPSEU members are already lobbying and e-mailing their MPPs through this web site. They’re putting the message out that pensions belong to the workers who paid for them, they don’t trust McGuinty with their life savings, and McGuinty should solve Ontario’s problems, not create new ones.
Most people don’t have pensions where they work, including many OPSEU members, said Thomas.
“We want pensions for everybody. And we want defined benefits pensions for everybody so they know exactly what they will earn when they retire,” said Thomas.
Many callers asked how it’s legal for the government to take over these plans. OPSEU has retained lawyers to be prepared for legal battles if necessary, but according to Grimaldi, it may not come to that. Opposition to their plan has already forced the government to shelve its plans to introduce legislation this fall. Politicians are sensitive to political pressure, Grimaldi says, and nothing is more powerful than for people to stand up, hold their ground, and speak out.
“If the Liberals try to legislate (a takeover of pension plans), there is certainly a question as to whether it is legal,” said Grimaldi. “But rather than waiting for legal battles, the safest way is for our members to fight off this attack so the government knows if they touch our pensions, they won’t be electing a member from Cornwall to Kenora.”