Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pension decision angers union leaders - Reforms | Overtime won't be part of pension income calculation, city rules
(Excerpts from article published in the Daily Gleaner, May 25/11)

The City of Fredericton has changed its employee pension plan, eliminating overtime in the calculation of pensionable income and capping annual cost-of-living adjustments at 1.5 per cent. Unionized employee groups, including firefighters, police officers and public works employees, had lobbied councillors not to do away with the overtime calculation. They argued they're routinely expected to work overtime to keep the city safe and roads clear in snowstorms.

The employees rallied at a family-style barbecue in the parking lot at city hall before heading to the council gallery to watch the vote. They held signs reading: "We just want a secure future for all" and "Invest in us, we are part of the city." When councillors voted in favour of the amendments package the workers stood up in the upper gallery, turned their backs to the councillors on the floor below and booed.

"We were under the understanding that there would be some discussion around it and that council had varying opinions. Some people were for this. Some people were thinking that there were better ways to address this," said Wade Kierstead, president of CUPE Local 3864, which represents technical and professional employees at the city.

Glenn Sullivan, vice-president of the city's firefighters union IAFF Local 1053, said the city blindsides its workers with changes. "They don't listen to the employees. It's the same thing over and over again. It's quite disheartening. We thought we'd have some support from some of the councillors," he said.

Sullivan said society needs to recognize that pension improvements are needed across the board, even the Canada Pension Plan, rather than leaving many seniors living hand to mouth. "It's time that people got on board with this and realized we need to protect our seniors and have a decent retirement," he said. Mayor Brad Woodside said workers made their pitch, but councillors didn't agree.

Coun. Mike O'Brien, who sat in on the pension reform discussions, said 17 options were considered during 20 meetings on pension reform and this is the best compromise that could be reached to try to reduce the $37.5-million deficit.

O'Brien, who had earlier voted against the pension amendments package, said with the elimination of overtime in the calculation of contributions, the city will save $115,000 in premiums. Since employees match the city dollar for dollar on premiums, workers will also pay $115,000 less per year on their share of the premiums.

"If you do the math, the net cost to the city now, is a little more favourable than what we looked at it in October with completely de-indexing the pension fund, so the taxpayers benefitted even better tonight. The employees, even though change is difficult, will now have a more stable pension plan. We don't have to revisit this for quite a few years."

O'Brien said 80 per cent of pension plans across the country don't allow overtime to be used in the calculation of pensionable earnings. The highest users of overtime - police and firefighters - also have higher levels of earnings annually compared to some of their city hall counterparts, he said. Employees made concessions and so did the city, he said.

In the days ahead, O'Brien said the city should look at additional pension reform, but any reforms should be undertaken on a go-forward basis with new city workers, leaving those contributing under the existing pension system intact.

To read the entire article, click on the following link:

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get well soon - In our view: Firefighters' mystery illness has damaged their integrity
(Daily Gleaner Editorial, May 27/11)

What sort of sudden illness could bring down 16 of 21 hearty firefighters all on the same day? Was it the hamburgers at the union barbecue held prior to the Tuesday evening council vote or was it a righteous sense of entitlement that's to blame?

Fredericton city council made a decision - unpopular with some employees - to tweak its employee pension plan. That means pension payroll deductions will rise and overtime hours will not be pensionable. The aim of this decision is to eliminate a $37.5-million deficit, thus keeping the plan healthy and sustainable for the long term.

On Wednesday morning, 16 of the day's 21 firefighters on duty came down with something and did not report for work, thus forcing a dozen off-duty firefighters to be called in at a taxpayer cost of $6,051 in overtime pay.

The city's pension decision was responsible, timely and absolutely necessary for past, current and future employees - including the mysteriously sick firefighters. This was not malicious power-mongering on the part of council. It was good stewardship to guard the integrity and viability of the pension fund.

But we have to wonder if the 16 suddenly ill firefighters actually see the big picture. Do they not understand that a bit of pain now leads to long-term financial security? Do they not understand that worldwide economic recession has affected the pensions of many, and we all have to suck it up, take a loss and do the best we can? Fredericton firefighters are not exempt from that reality.

Here are some other questions for the 16 firefighters:
* Are you so far removed from work-world reality that you fail to remember than many people have no pensions at all?
* Do you know that many people, when they work overtime, are lucky to get equal time off, not even time-and-a-half off?
* Do you know that many people, when they work overtime, get no extra pay or time off at all?
* Do you have any idea how many hundreds of people would trade places with you in a minute?
* Do you understand that your good reputation with the people you serve has been damaged by 16 questionable decisions?
* Do you appreciate that the people you serve have to pay the bill for your petulant indignation?
* Have you forgotten what you do for a living, who depends on you and who pays for it?
* And finally, do you foresee acting like spoiled children for much longer, because frankly, we don't believe the public will stand for it again?

We know you do a dangerous job and when you're on the job, you protect us well. We also understand you're angry. What we don't understand is why you chose to threaten the safety of the city and its citizens with your anger.

At the end of the day, the city and its taxpayers have a $6,000 overtime bill to cover for your sick days.
Some residents are no doubt anxious about the ability of the fire department to protect them, both on Wednesday, and in the future, should this continue. Plenty of people are angry that you chose this action to make your point. You have lost the respect of a lot of your supporters.

So, we ask one more question: Was it worth it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Happy Trails
(Daily Gleaner Editorial, May 20/11)

The City of Fredericton has been planning on paving more of the capital's trail system, but residents from the city's west end have filed a petition against such a move. Some trail users feel a gravel trail is easier to walk on.

We can also see how the notion of placing a priority on paving trails in the city might be puzzling to some. It might seem odd that municipal officials are talking about paving walking trails at a time when there are potholes on city streets that could swallow compact cars (or so it seems at times).

But we agree with the mayor and other city officials who defended the plan for paving the trails. They argue - and quite successfully, we feel - that paving trails is an inclusionary practice, as it allows the disabled and people with children in strollers to enjoy the trail system with ease.

The more people who can avail themselves of the trails, the better, not just because everyone should be on an equal footing when it comes to municipal services and infrastructure, but because more people on the trails means more people are being active.

Paving the trails also opens the door to other kinds of physical activity as well. It's not just those walking or jogging on these trails. Paving them makes them viable options for cycling, in-line skating and skateboarding.
Not only do paved trails promote more fitness, they promote safety as well. Pedestrians, cyclists, skaters and skateboarders are removed from busy street traffic by using the trails while still being able to get around the city.

The relatively recent development of formalizing and managing the city's trail system has inarguably enhanced quality of life for Frederictonians, and a move to add to the trails' appeal is a good move on the part of city hall.