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Halifax outside workers rally at City Hall in defense of their pensions

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Well over a hundred City of Halifax outside workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 108, gathered in front of City Hall late this afternoon to send a message to Mayor Savage and City councillors.

These are the workers who look after HRM’s green spaces and parks, roads, playgrounds and sidewalks, and in the winter do much of the city’s snow clearing.

The workers want the city to get back to the bargaining table, revoke a lock-out notice, and stop eroding their pensions.

Earlier in August the latest city offer was rejected by 90 percent of the workers.

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“We have been in negotiation with this employer for well over a year, and all they ever show us is disrespect,” said Mark Cunningham, president of the Local.

Pensions, wages and issues such as scheduling of shifts are the main points of contention, Cunningham said.

“We were told that Council give the bargaining committee and the CEO a mandate to go after our total compensation package. yet when I ask councillors they claim they didn’t give that mandate. How can that be,” said Cunningham.

Cunningham suggested that the city’s stance on pensions is the most substantial stumbling block.

“The real breakdown on pensions and wages is that we are dealing with a very cagey employer’s offer that is actually linking wages to the pension plan,” Kevin Skerrett told the Nova Scotia Advocate.

Skerrett is a CUPE researcher who specializes in the complexities of pension negotiations.

“Pension plan cost increases used to be shared between the employees and the employer,” Skerrett explained. “This proposal changes that, to an employee-funded arrangement and an employee risk in terms of any future incremental changes. This changes the basic deal.”

“The City proposes that the wage increase is contingent on the future status of the pension plan, specifically the employer’s scheduled wage increases. They become maybe wage increases, depending on what happens with the pension plan,” Skerrett said.

“What is so disturbing is that the City proposal not only undermines the clarity of your wage increase, but it also transfers pension funding risk from the employer over to plan members,” said Skerrett. “It is an outrageously concessionary proposal, and I feel very strongly that this Local that said no to it stands on very firm ground.”

Many speakers expressed their solidarity with the workers.

Among them were CUPE Nova Scotia president Nan McFadgen, Nova Scotia Federation of Labour president Danny Cavanagh, Amalgamated Transit Union president Ken Wilson, and of course CUPE Local 108 president Mark Cunningham. Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP also spoke.

Heather Corkum, president of CUPE Local 1431, representing the inside workers at Halifax Water, also addressed the crowd. In 2015 Corkum led and won a bitter nine-week strike that focused on pension integrity.

“It took us nine weeks of walking the streets in defense of our pension plan,” said Corkum, “but it was worth every minute. We showed Halifax Water that  our plan is affordable an sustainable.”

“The important thing is that it should never have happened. We should not have to fight with our employers to protect our retirement security and to  protect our jobs,” Corkum said.

“Make no mistake, Mr Mayor and HRM Council. If you lock out the outside workers we will be there beside them. Go back to the table and bargain! Otherwise we will speak with our votes,” Corkum said.