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Public sector unions rally against pension changes

St. Albert part of province-wide day of action

By: Victoria Paterson

  |  Posted: Friday, Mar 21, 2014 02:00 pm

SPEAKING OUT – Licensed practical nurse Lyla Kernested (right) and Joan Reid demonstrate during a lunchtime rally in front of the Sturgeon Community Hospital on Thursday.
SPEAKING OUT – Licensed practical nurse Lyla Kernested (right) and Joan Reid demonstrate during a lunchtime rally in front of the Sturgeon Community Hospital on Thursday.
VICTORIA PATERSON/St. Albert Gazette

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A rally outside Sturgeon Community Hospital was part of a province-wide day of action as public sector unions protest changes to their pensions.

“We’re rallying to fight the cuts the Progressive Conservatives are doing with the pensions. They are making cuts that we feel don’t need to be made. They say [the pensions are] not sustainable. We’re getting information from actuaries that they are going to be sustainable,” said Sharon Lloyd, first vice-president with United Nurses of Alberta Local 85.

The noontime rally saw members of the United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Alberta Union of Public Employees and Unifor accessorized with signs and flags outside the hospital despite the wintry weather Thursday.

Several passing motorists honked and waved as they went by.

In February the province announced changes to public sector unions, with Treasury Board President and Finance Minister Doug Horner announcing adjustments such as increasing the early retirement age to 60 for those with 30 years of service.

Cost-of-living adjustments for pension benefits earned after 2015 will now be targeted at 60 per cent of the Alberta inflation rate rather than guaranteed.

The changes will take effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Originally, the slogan “Retire Redford” was going to be part of the signage, but with the premier’s surprise resignation the night before, the concerns remain, said Karen Kuprys, north central district representative for the United Nurses.

“The message is going to be the same. Whoever’s in power, we don’t want them touching our pensions. We think because we pay into it from our salary that we should have some say in how they’re managed,” Kuprys said.

Lloyd said altering the cost-of-living adjustments and other changes hurt those who were counting on the current deal staying in place.

“People have paid for those pensions, they’ve planned for those pensions,” Lloyd said.

“I think they’re not being truthful to everybody when they say that people who’ve already retired, their benefits won’t be affected. Because one of the proposed changes is capping the contribution rates, which sounds good in theory, to people who have to contribute but what that means is if we actually can’t afford to pay out the benefits, there is going to be no choice but to pull back on those benefits so I think the government’s being very untruthful to people who have already retired,” Kuprys said.

There was a core group of about a dozen people as part of the hour-long rally, with that number going up to 50 when accounting for people who were stopping by on their breaks.

“This isn’t just the nurses, not just the hospitals, it’s affecting across the board,” Lloyd said. “Everybody should have the right to a proper retirement.”

There’s a common misperception that the pension is a golden handshake, Lloyd and Kuprys said, but they pay significant amounts into their pensions and have no choice about contributing.

“We would like to have them negotiate it,” Lloyd said. “Maybe changes did need to happen or do need to happen, but they should be working collectively with the stakeholders.”


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