Public sector workers rally against proposed pension changes

Red Deer lab technician Sandi Hayes worries that if the province changes the pension eligibility, she will never get to retire.

Red Deer lab technician Sandi Hayes worries that if the province changes the pension eligibility, she will never get to retire.

“I am depending on my pension,” said Hayes, 41. “I was older when I started working and there are a number of people who are in the same boat.”

Hayes said the unions should have a say with what happens with their pensions.

“We don’t have that here,” she said. “It’s silly because we are the major stakeholders and yet we have no say at all at what happens.”

The Alberta government intends to reform public service pension plans to cover $7.4 million in unfunded liabilities. Effective Jan. 1, 2015, some changes would likely affect early retirement benefits and cost of living adjustments. Legislation is expected to be introduced later this spring.

Hayes was one of  hundreds of public-sector workers who braved the snowy first day of spring in Red Deer on Thursday as part of a provincewide Pension Action Day. United Nurses of Alberta president Heather Smith was scheduled to attend but was kept away because of the poor road conditions.

At Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, Red Deer City Hall and Red Deer College, workers wore placards such as “I’m voting for my pension” and “Don’t Legislate, Don’t Arbitrate! Negotiate” and chatted with onlookers about the issues.

Nurse Vivian Gresham said it is both frustrating and disappointing that the government is trying to claw back pensions.

“I love my job but not the politics of the government getting involved to make our work more difficult. It is wrong, very wrong,” said Gresham, 60, who has worked at the hospital since 1988.

She is nearing retirement age but she is more concerned about the younger generations who will pay into the new pension plans.

Hayes said one of the reasons she went into health care 13 years ago was because it is a good career with a good pension.

“There’s a lot of reasons not to work in health care,” she said. “There’s a lot of crappy hours. You work 24/7 and you’re exposed to a lot of diseases and there is a high injury rate. The pension defers (some of those drawbacks).”

Denise Brunskill, a hospital unit clerk, said she is relieved that Premier Alison Redford will step down on Sunday and says they have to remain strong in their fight.

“We want to ensure nothing gets changed,” she said. “We want our pensions. I am going to be retiring soon.”

Jason Heistad, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees executive secretary-treasurer, said their members are paying into that unfunded liability right now.

“Minister (Doug) Horner says the sky is falling when the sky isn’t falling with our pensions,” he said. “We have been arguing for more governance so we are able to make more good choices with our employers about our pensions. Unfortunately, the way it is set up is Minister Horner has all the say with public service and local authority’s public pension plans. That’s the unfortunate part. We’re handcuffed.”

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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