ATU 615 Member Update
To date we have had no indication from the employer that they are interested in resuming talks with the intent of reaching agreement. We have been speaking to councilors who have agreed to meet with us stressing the importance of reaching settlement but as of now we have had no new items to report. We have had a meeting with Marno regarding supervisors within ATU and who potentially the city may attempt to implement outside of our bargaining unit based on their interpretation of the Saskatchewan Employment Act. All that we gathered from this discussion is that they may attempt to identify some positions within our local,but were not definitive. Positions discussed were potentially time clerks and some maintenance supervisors, but once again they did not officially identify which if any positions they might attempt to remove. Basically he was looking for us to change our promotion clause in our collective agreement to allow for them not to have to adhere to our seniority provision which states seniority will prevail if qualifications and ability are sufficient. Ironically we are going to arbitration on the Shelley Lyons grievance for precisely upholding that promotion clause. We presented our pension grievance at the arbitration hearing on April 25,26,2016, and are now awaiting a decision from arbitrator Bill Hood. Our evidence was lengthy and we are pleased with the case presentation. Thanks to our brother Len Thiessen, he kept very accurate records on our pension plan as our past pension rep. It could be anywhere from 3-9 months before a decision is rendered. If successful, the potential to deem the pension changes a violation of our CBA ,would mean that changes cannot be made without our consent.
Darcy, Tyson and I attended a pension conference in Regina hosted by the Sask Federation of Labor on May 3,4, 2016. Kevin Skerrett , a pension expert from Cupe National Ottawa was a keynote speaker and presenter. He is very familiar with our pension plan as both he and Mark Janson assist their locals in pension related issues. We had a chance to inform Kevin of our fight to maintain our defined benefit plan and he re-confirmed our position that signing the same deal as the other locals would shift all the risk on our backs we would have a target benefit plan no longer guaranteed by the city. The potential for benefits to be reduced in the future even for those currently retired could be a possibility if the current law were changed just like in New Brunswick. Two of our Cupe brothers from Saskatoon were also present at this conference and were of the opinion that they still have a defined benefit plan. Not only did we converse with them privately about our plan, but so too did Kevin, who reiterated the fact that they now have a target plan. It seems obvious that other members of our plan from other locals and associations are accepting Murray Totlands statements that they still have a defined benefit plan. This is simply not accurate. Educating these plan members with the facts is vitally important. Some of our own members are accusing us of fearmongering our members about the possibility of reducing benefits for ourselves and our retirees in the future. If we signed the deal as it is ,the potential could exist at some point. If we don’t sign the deal as it is and maintain what we have had since 1964, then there would be no threat of reducing benefits for anyone. The city would remain the legal ,liable sponsor of the plan and GUARANTEE benefits would not change. There is a big difference between benefits promised and benefits guaranteed. Our members need to hear the truth so that all the facts are on the table. We believe the potential still exists for our other locals in this pension plan to reexamine their positions in the next round of bargaining as it relates to pension. We have and will continue to fight for fairness for ATU members, but we also recognize that if all locals stand together on common issues such as what Regina did for their pension, then it magnifies our strength.
BRIDGES HEALTH COMPANY:
In case you are not aware, the city has hired Bridges Health to act for the city by administering the Disability Assistance Program on their behalf.I have received numerous complaints from members that have been contacted by Bridges in relation to abscense from work. I have been informed that once our members have been identified as having 10 or more abscences in a 12 month period, they are automatically triggering a call from Bridges. Do not be fooled into thinking that Bridges is not the employer. They are acting as the employer and from our perspective are no different. They tell you that anything you tell them is confidential and will remain as such. We have stated opposition to this so called pilot project and already have reasons to challenge the tactics Bridges is using to administer this for the city. Issues such as calling people at home just to see how they are doing ,because they noticed a leave of abscense no pay. Contacting night shift workers in the morning after working the night before. Seeking members (voluntarily of course) to sign a form enabling them to contact your doctor directly. Demanding members to go see their doctor on the day that they are off sick at home, even though they are too sick to come in to work, or they may not receive sick pay. These are just some of the issues that have been brought to our attention. On top of this, our employer is now refusing to pay for our union reps to attend these meetings with our members, claiming these are intake meetings and not investigative or disciplinary.This has prompted us to file a grievance against the city for failing to pay for representation when our member requests a union rep to attend. We highly recommend that you take a union rep with you when summoned for a meeting with Bridges.This is no different if one of our supervisors calls you for a meeting to discuss attendance issues. You are entitled to have a rep present with you and both you and your rep should be paid to attend. ATU members are the guinea pig union that the city isn using to test this pilot project out. Given the concerns and complaints from members back to us, we will be addressing these issues in all available avenues. This is just one more example of the employer forcing us to deal with issues that we didn’t create. They did and now we must spend more time and money to fight for fairness once again.
NEGATIVITY IN THE WORKPLACE:
We recognize that there is a high level of frustration in the workplace and that is precisely what Marno and company like to see. He is not the one that is living on 2012 wages and he and his counterparts have stated publicly that they intended to lock us out to force economic pressure on us to give into his demands.We continue to stand firm in our fight for fairness but there are concerns that we need to speak out about that have potential to impact our fight for fairness.
There are a segment of ATU members within our organization and workplace that have not supported this current executive right from the outset of the last election in 2013 and quite frankly no matter what we have or can do on behalf of our union will never be good enough for them. Many of these same people are now already 7 months before our next election in December, spreading their cheer throughout this membership, making claims of this executive having QUOTE (no balls) misspending money on lost time, not knowing how to bargain, withholding and not providing details of where and how your money is spent on legal fees, and basically behind the scenes attempting to convince our membership that they have better solutions and are more capable of running our union. Our financial information is available to anyone who wants to come down to the office, as is our 6 month audits that are sent to our International for verification. There is nothing to hide , so feel free to contact your executive anytime to set up an appointment.
On top of this negativity, two supervisors have brazenly engaged our members questioning why they made comments at our private union meetings or why they would assist this executive in our fight for fairness. One supervisor went as far to insinuate that I have been misleading our members about our pension plan. He has since written an apology to the union for those comments and I have raised the issue of the supervisor questioning our members about their involvement at the union meetings. The reasons for bringing this to your attention is to raise awareness as to how important this pension- wage agreement is to this employer. There is potentially millions of dollars at stake over this pension liability. The city is just hoping and waiting for our union to burst at the seams and simply self destruct and give in. They are actually directly or indirectly assisting that process by having supervisors engage our members. One has to ask the question, Who and how does our employer find out who said what at our private union meetings? Marno and management together with whomever is providing our intimate union meeting discussions, are watching with glee, as they likely believe they are winning the battle. Marno ,you are wrong. I use the analogy of the employer throwing a loaf of bread in the middle of 400 starving families and sit back and watch them harm each other to get a piece of the bread. Watch them fight each other so that they can divide and conquer them all and won’t focus their attention on the bread thrower.(remember the lock out-starve into submission). These tactics are not new. Unionbusters have used these and similar techniques to interfere with strength and solidarity, and attack unions from within. Not only do these tactics work, if left unchecked it could destroy a union. Do you really think the employer will take us seriously and want to conclude bargaining if they think they can burst our bubble of strength and solidarity? If someone is feeding them information from within, are they also telling them that our strength is weakening?
I want to express to you, that even amidst all the negative comments directed our way, that this current executive is steadfast in fighting for fairness and will continue to do so, until you have your opportunity at the end of this year to decide otherwise. Prior to that, we ask that if you can agree with us that internal negativity does nothing but harm us all at this most critical time, then challenge that negativity in a respectful manner when it occurs. If the majority agree with this statement then for your own interests (not the executives)you need to speak out on the potential damage to our own workplace environment,and struggle to achieve a fair collective agreement. This is not an issue on whether you do or do not support this executive, it is about staying strong together so we can show our employer we are not giving in and ready to burst. We are not even remotely close to election mode, and all of this negativity at this time could feasibly do more harm than good. You will all have your opportunity in due time to cast your ballot. Let us not forget the years(not long ago) that ATU members spent more time fighting each other and the consequences of that. I close in once again using the phrase in our constitution, UNITED WE BARGAIN DIVIDED WE BEG
President/Business Agent ATU 615
Remuneration Benefits Reimbursements For City Councillors See 5.2.3 Page 5 And Page 147 For The Full Report
Shame on the City of Saskatoon. Our bus drivers are the lowest paid in Canada (yes, less than Regina’s) and have been without a contract for four years.
These ambassadors of our city deal with the public everyday and have many lives in their hands. They are paid less than our garbage collectors. Perhaps whoever is negotiating for the city should be replaced if they are this inept and have failed to reach a deal in four years.
These bus drivers should be told they are valued members of our city and given a decent wage. I cannot be the only citizen who feels that the drivers have been taken for granted and undervalued.
We need to budget more for the service we want, which should also include new buses. Anyone who has travelled has seen how great public transit can be. Come on, City of Saskatoon. It’s time to do better.
Shauna George, Saskatoon
ABOUT THE CITY OF SASKATOON SUPERANNUATION PLAN
The City of Saskatoon has unilaterally locked out its transit employees represented by ATU Local 615. The City has also unilaterally imposed new terms on the Pension Plan that affects the rights and entitlements of active members of the Pension Plan. The City has recently sent a “Just the Facts” news release to members that contains incorrect and misleading information.
The ATU is deeply concerned about these changes and this misinformation. This notice sets out some of the key myths and facts about the changes the City has imposed on members.
Myth #1: The City is still providing a defined benefit plan to its employees.
The changes imposed by the City fundamentally change the nature of the Pension Plan from a contributory defined benefit plan, in which the employer is liable for any plan costs not negotiated and paid by plan members to a fixed cost, target benefit type pension plan.
The changes impose the key features of a fixed cost, target benefit plan: they limit or cap contributions to the Pension Plan by the City and employees. If these contributions are not sufficient to meet the needs of the Pension Plan from time to time, the new terms require that future benefits be cut in some way.
The City is incorrect and misleading in calling the amended Pension Plan the same type of defined benefit plan it had in place before. True defined benefit plans have fixed defined benefits and flexible contributions that can increase and decrease as needs require. The new terms the City imposed impose caps on contributions and would require cuts to future benefits in some cases.
It is true that the city cannot reduce past or accrued benefits under these new changes. Retirees pensions and active members past service (also called accrued benefits) cannot be reduced under current legislation. Instead, any future funding problem in the plan will require deeper cuts to future benefits.
In contrast, before these amendments were unilaterally imposed, the City was responsible for paying any extra cost over and above negotiated contributions. The City has shifted this burden onto employees, particularly younger employees who have yet to accrue many pension benefits.
Myth #2: The City has no responsibility for actuarial valuations and no influence over the required contributions to the Pension Plan.
The Pension Plan is sponsored by the City, and the City negotiates contributions to the Pension Plan, as well as negotiating benefits paid under the Plan. It has the ability to agree to pay the costs necessary to maintain the contributory, defined benefit pension plan it has always provided to employees.
The Pension Plan is administered by a Board of Trustees. At least half the trustees are appointed by the City. The City has significant influence over the funding of the Pension Plan by its role as a sponsor and in its power to appoint City representatives to the Board of Trustees. City Manager Murray Totland and Councillor Pat Lorje sit as trustees of the plan. Murray Totland has sat as a trustee over the years since 2000.
Myth #3 The ATU caused an additional $6.7 million deficit in the Pension Plan.
According to the actuarial valuations approved by the Board of Trustees of the Pension Plan (where the City appoints 50% of the Board), the Pension Plan had a $68 million deficit at December 31, 2012. This actuarial valuation included a “margin” or additional money set aside for contingencies. The size of the margin was 10% of all Pension Plan liabilities, or about $70 million. If no margin were employed, there would likely have been no deficit in 2012. The cause of the 2012 deficit was the introduction of a 10% margin.
When the Board of Trustees “updated” the actuarial valuation following negotiations with the other bargain units, the new valuation only used a 5.4% margin. No explanation was given as to why, now, the Board of Trustees determined that only 5.4% was needed, now that other bargaining units had made concessions in bargaining.
Even worse, the June, 2014 update did not reflect positive investment gains during 2013 and 2014, but did reflect the significant concessions made by other bargaining units. If the positive investment gains had been reflected, it is very likely that the Pension Plan would be fully funded today, including a 10% margin.
The City is misleading members when it states that the ATU caused the pension deficit and that radical changes are needed to address the pension deficit. The City is attempting to bargain with the ATU on information that is over two years old and is very misleading. The ATU has had independent advisors including legal counsel review this information and confirm that the Pension Plan is likely to be fully funded today even without any concessions by the ATU.
Which comes first – the chicken or the egg? If you solve that puzzle, then you can solve the next riddle: Which comes first, necessary infrastructure or the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service?
Whenever a sales pitch is presented telling me I am getting a top quality product for a bargain basement price, my inner voice says “yeah, right” and my Spidey senses start tingling. My inner voice was screaming and my body tingling when Alan Wallace, the director of planning and development for Saskatoon, said the estimated cost of the proposed rapid transit plan is between $44.2 and $66.3 million. And a plus or minus factor of $22.1 million was disconcerting, especially when you consider the city’s less than stellar record of bringing projects in on time and on budget.
However, to fully implement the plan over the upcoming years, the city will have to build another bridge connecting the east side of the river to 33rd Street. How can this possibly happen with a budget capped at $66.3 million?
The short answer is it can’t. The bridges and necessary railway underpasses and roadway infrastructure are not included in this price. Those costs will be included in the $1.4 billion infrastructure spending planned over the next few decades. (Reminder to self: $1 billion is 1,000 million dollars, which is a hefty expenditure for any mid-sized city to bear, keeping in mind that this is only one budget line.)
So why play with numbers? Why not give a report saying how much the total package will cost, inclusive of infrastructure, and say this is what we will spend over the next three decades to build a good, reliable, affordable public transit system, be it bus or train? Why try selling us a measly $66 million plan by comparing it to other cities like Winnipeg, London or Calgary, cities that spent in excess of $500 million for rapid public transit, when if this plan proceeds we will be spending an equivalent amount over the coming decades? Is it the snowball theory, that being when Council comes back and says, “we have already spent $66 million and we can’t quit now” when justifying squeezing us for the balance needed to complete the project? Whatever happened to that old adage “honesty is the best policy?”
Jarrett Walker, a purported expert in the field of public transportation, has already pointed to the fact that although curbside lanes may be cheaper, they are also slower and less reliable. In debate, the most lucid comment is attributed to Councillor Darren Hill when he questioned whether the City was being short-sighted by opting for the cheaper curbside option today with less economic benefit overall in the future.
Walker also points out that higher bus ridership and total city coverage contradict each other. That prompted transit manager Jim McDonald to add that the system’s long-term plan is to decrease service coverage and increase frequency, which in turn will supposedly increase ridership. That prompted Councillor Randy Donauer to express concern for walking distances to BRT stops for riders, especially in light of our harsh winters (and especially for those citizens with mobility issues.) Walker responded that weather is not generally used as a factor in establishing rapid transit stops. It should be remembered that Walker is from Oregon where the weather rarely dips below zero and snowfall is infrequent.
McDonald says transit will experiment this summer by running buses every five minutes along Eighth Street but without using dedicated lanes. I am bewildered as to how this will work given that buses will experience the same traffic problems private vehicles currently do. Envision bumper-to-bumper buses waiting to get back into moving traffic when pulling away from a transit stop. Add to the fray cyclists leisurely pedalling down the middle of road. If the City wants to pilot this system, then use dedicated lanes and give the public a taste of how this BRT really works. (Then again, maybe this is all part of Wallace’s Eighth Street redesign project presented a while back.)
Councillors Darren Hill and Pat Lorje are opposed to the proposed 33rd Street bridge. (Both have ward boundaries abutting 33rd Street.) Hill has called it the “over my dead body” bridge. Let’s anticipate a state funeral for Hill. Lorje is adamantly opposed to a 33rd Street bridge, but if there is to be a bridge it should be a walking/cycling only. I’m scratching my head trying to figure out how this fits into the BRT plan. Councillor Troy Davies, whose ward also touches on 33rd Street, points out that the City has spent years trying to divert traffic away from this east-west roadway and the proposed bridge would defeat that effort. So many concerns, so few answers.
What I don’t get is why Council promotes a sustainable, walkable, high-density city core, phasing out a reliance on vehicular traffic city-wide in favour of public transportation, and at the same time spends hundreds of millions of dollars on bridges and roadway infrastructure for the driving convenience of the ever-expanding suburbs. (More head scratching – maybe I have dandruff!)
Without a doubt, every city can benefit from a good, reliable, efficient and affordable public transportation system and Council should be commended for forward planning. I have used good public transit systems in major cities and in each instance they have been centre lane systems. These cities have featured park-and-ride parking lots, as well as small commuter buses that link BRT patrons to their neighborhoods. I’m not convinced this proposed plan will get us to that end result. I am also not convinced that a City our size can carry the full financial burden of this plan if the anticipated population growth is stunted. Before Council starts spending hundreds of millions of dollars, I’d like to see the whole picture rather than a sketch.
Whatever happens, transit employees will have to be on side to make this plan work. I can’t see a lot of co-operation coming from those employees given the four-year stalemate on contract negotiations and the animosity between the union and management arising from illegal lockout.