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February 6, 2014 - No. 10

Harper Government Announces
Anti-Strike Legislation at CN Rail

Oppose the Criminalization of
Railway Workers!

Harper Government Announces Anti-Strike Legislation at CN Rail
Oppose the Criminalization of Railway Workers!

Fight to Keep the Post Office Public
The Difference Between Two Slogans Which Ostensibly Say the Same Thing
- Louis Lang

Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!
New Brunswick Government Attacking Public Sector Pensions
Quebec Government Going Further in Anti-Labour Restructuring of Defined-Benefits Pension Plans

Harper Government Announces Anti-Strike Legislation at CN Rail

Oppose the Criminalization of Railway Workers!

On February 5, anti-Labour Minister Kellie Leitch announced that her government would table the following morning back-to-work legislation making illegal a strike by 3,000 CN Rail conductors, trainmen and traffic coordinators. These workers are members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. On February 4, the union sent a strike notice which meant that the workers could have legally gone on strike February 8. The tabling of the back-to-work legislation has been cancelled for the moment with the signing of a tentative agreement between CN Rail and the Teamsters Union on the evening of February 5. Minister Leitch is now taking credit for having "assisted" the negotiations with the threat of back-to-work legislation. In January, the workers rejected a tentative agreement reached in the fall between CN and the union, over issues that affect their health and safety, which are key in protecting the health and safety of the public.

With this new threat of back-to-work legislation against the CN workers, the Harper government continues to criminalize workers' struggles in defence of their rights. It continues to equate the private interests of the monopolies with the national interest and declares railways and airlines essential services in which workers' stands to defend their rights are illegal. This does not mean that the government is making sure that airlines and railways are run according to the highest standards including safety standards, as the recent railway disasters amply and tragically prove. It means that the private interests of the railway and airline monopolies are being declared the national interest, which is part and parcel of politicizing private interests, something which holds great danger for the workers and Canadians. To table such legislation at a time when Canadians are demanding action to protect the safety and security of the workers and people in the wake of the railway tragedies shows the criminality of this government, as well as the criminality of the anti-social offensive of the rich and the governments in their service.

The demands of the workers in negotiations and -- as far as details have been revealed -- their rejection of the previous tentative agreement are on the issue of health and safety. This is specifically their inadequate rest periods and the extreme fatigue they experience, especially with the responsibility that falls on them with the drastic increase in the transportation of hazardous materials. Minister Leitch is only too happy to boast that her threat was instrumental in bringing the two parties together, but what is she going to say if workers face further tragedies in which their extreme fatigue and lack of proper rest periods play a role? She and her government are on record for not caring even a bit about the workers' well-being and the concerns they are conveying with their demands. Are the railway workers going to be able to consider the new tentative agreement with peace of mind when the issues at stake are so serious and with back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads?

TML Daily again vehemently denounces this inhumane and callous government and firmly supports the CN and other front line transportation workers whose fight to defend their own well-being is important in defending the well-being of all. TML calls upon all workers to step up their struggle to force this government out of office as soon as possible.

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Fight to Keep the Post Office Public

The Difference Between Two Slogans
Which Ostensibly Say the Same Thing

Actions this January in Calgary (left) and Hamilton.

At a time when the Harper government is pursuing a policy of destroying public assets and is doing everything in its power to hand over all profitable public services to the private sector, how the workers provide themselves with orientation to defend their rights and the interest of society is of great significance. In this regard, the slogans the workers put forward must have a cutting edge which advances their fight to defend public right and the rights of workers to proper wages and working conditions. Let us look at the two slogans "Save the Public Post Office" and "Save Canada Post." They seem to say the same thing but in fact are quite different. The most significant difference between the two becomes clear when we go deeper into the two very different agendas which are being presented for the post office -- one by Canada Post and the government of Canada and the other by the postal workers and people of Canada. In this context "Save Canada Post" or "Save the Public Post Office," take two very different directions.

Postal workers know from years of experience in the struggle for their rights that every demand for concessions and roll-backs, every step towards further privatization and deregulation of postal services has been done on the basis of the perverse logic that to save the corporation it was necessary to attack the workers' livelihood and security.

In the last round of negotiations in 2010, Canada Post's theme for negotiations was, "Some things have to change so others don't." In their document "Opening Comments and Proposals" in October 2010, the corporation stated, "the individual security of each and every one of our employees is intimately tied to the success of the company."

This was a clear threat that the workers must accept a two-tier wage system, loss of sick-leave benefits and the gutting of the contract or even more would be lost. The corporation's theme was intended to impose their agenda on the negotiations process that "protecting the financial viability of the Corporation," was a shared responsibility with the union.

Signs and slogans seen during the 2010 round of negotiations with Canada Post.

Postal workers rejected this vicious attack of the corporation and after negotiations broke down prepared to organize rotating strikes across the country. Workers insisted that they gave rise to their defence organization not to "protect the financial viability of the Corporation," but to fight for their rights as workers. Workers also pointed out that "financial viability" was a bogus issue. For the past ten years Canada Post has not only made profits each year, but also handed over hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends to the government. It was precisely during this period when hundreds of retail post offices were closed and the plans for Postal Transformation and more cut-backs in services were hatched.

The results of the last round of negotiations are well known. Canada Post locked out the workers, the Harper government passed legislation criminalizing the struggle of postal workers and used blackmail and intimidation until the leadership of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers agreed to recommend, albeit reluctantly, that postal workers accept many of the main roll-backs and concessions originally demanded by the corporation. Ratification meetings were held across the country, and postal workers voted by a narrow margin of 57 per cent to accept the contract. Significantly, the turnout for the vote was one of the lowest in the union's history. This shows that the workers need an alternative they can believe in and fight for because, whether or not the union leadership was convinced that accepting the roll-backs was the only way to protect the defined-benefit pension plan and "job security," is not the issue. The facts prove otherwise.

We have seen that the drastic concessions and roll-backs has not been enough for Canada Post. A few short weeks after the signing of the contract in December 2012, the corporation announced the closure of mail processing plants in Windsor, North Bay and other cities. This was part of their plan to concentrate mail processing in four main plants across the country resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs, cut-backs in service and damaging the economies of many large cities across the country. Canada Post has also continued to sell postal franchises to Shoppers Drug Mart and other national retailers with the result that many of their own Retail Post Offices have been closed down.

Some of the important demands brought forward by postal workers during the 2011 strike and lockout,
all of which continue to be pressing issues.

Canada Post is also behind the recent speculation about the financial crisis facing it. Reports like the one by the Conference Board of Canada and the Fraser Institute are being used to justify further attacks on the public post office; and the corporation's claims that it cannot wait for the next round of bargaining to make drastic changes to the pension plan.

This is all part of the drive of the Harper government for privatization and deregulation. They have fully adopted neo-liberal globalization and are selling public institutions like the Post Office and Atomic Energy Canada Limited to the highest bidder and are trying to hide this truth from postal workers and all Canadians.

What this shows is that an alternative can only be found on the basis of the fight of the workers for their rights and the rights of all.

At this time the workers cannot permit the slogan "Save Canada Post" to mean that the workers should give up the agenda of defending the public post office. The slogan "Save Canada Post" must not be permitted to undermine the struggle of postal workers as it goes counter to the many years of experience of struggle and their instinct to wage their struggles based on their own agenda and needs. These have always been represented by their slogan to "Save the Public Post Office" and this is what has exposed the government and the managers of Canada Post who are intent on wrecking the public post office.

Despite how hopeless the situation is made to look, there is no need to surrender to the demands of the corporation that "protecting the financial viability of the Corporation was a shared responsibility with the Union." This is very damaging to the struggle of all workers who know that our security lies in our organized ability to fight for our rights!

The slogan of the government and Canada Post to save the post office is a ruse to make believe that the solution lies in finding some compromise at a time the corporations and governments are refusing to participate in negotiations of any kind. They merely impose their dictate and through blackmail and extortion they demand that the workers' organizations accept this, or they resort to government legislation to impose it. This is what is happening in all sectors of the economy and it must be brought to an end. The Corporation must be forced by the workers to negotiate contracts on the basis of upholding what belongs to the workers and the public by right -- their wages, working conditions required to do the job safely and humanely, and the services required by a modern society. Only the struggle of the workers and their allies to defend the rights of all Canadians to a public Post Office will achieve this. It is this struggle which reveals the fraud in which the management of Canada Post and the government are involved and it is only the struggle which can force real problems to be revealed and provided with solutions. The key to waging this struggle is to mobilize the most important force, the vast majority of workers who through the superiority in numbers and advanced consciousness and organization are capable of defeating the plans of the Harper government to impose monopoly right. This fight can provide a new direction for the economy that recognizes public right. It can be done! It must be done.

The discussion on the significance of the two slogans "Save the Public Post Office" versus "Save Canada Post" is important to make the workers conscious that the starting point to defeat the blackmail and extortion of the corporation is to debunk the neo-liberal assumptions that concessions will save the post office. Saving the post office, a public institution based on upholding the public good, not private interests, is not the motivation of the plans to establish a privatized Canada Post. Even in the private corporations the workers face the same fight for their rights. Concessions are not solutions! Our security lies in the fight for the rights of all.

Fight for the Public Post Office!

(Photos: TML, CUPW)

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Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!

New Brunswick Government
Attacking Public Sector Pensions

Mass demonstration by more than 2,000 public sector workers and retirees in defence of their pensions,
Fredericton, November 6, 2013.

On January 1, Bill 11, An Act Respecting Pensions under the Public Service Superannuation Act, came into force in New Brunswick. The Act was passed under closure by the provincial Legislature last December. It repeals the Public Service Superannuation Act (PSSA) and converts the defined-benefit pension plan under the PSSA into a shared-risk plan for public sector employees and public sector retirees. This plan covers roughly 19,000 public sector employees and 13,000 retirees. Since that time, the Alward Conservative government announced that it would convert other public sector pensions to the so-called shared-risk plan. The passing of the bill was accompanied by a strident propaganda campaign according to which the defined-benefit pension plans were unsustainable, the PSSA plan had a $1 billion deficit and the government coffers, i.e., taxpayers' money, were being plundered to pay for the pensions of the public sector workers, etc.

The bill makes major changes to the pension plan of these workers. TML recently spoke to Daniel Légère, General Vice-President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees-New Brunswick, about them.

"The plan before the legislation was a defined-benefit pension plan," he said. "The government moved it to what the province calls a shared-risk model. I call it a target model pension plan. The reality is that it is a shifting of risk from the employer, which is the province in this case, entirely onto the backs of the plan members. The bill puts a cap on the premiums that the government would actually pay to the plan. It maxed out what their contributions would be. It is great for the government; there is no risk for the government because they know no matter how bad a shape the plan will be in if we have another economic crisis, they have a cap on what they are going to put in. What the plan does in essence, the workers now have to pay more premiums, from 5 per cent to 7.5 per cent of their salary to the plan. The age of retirement without a penalty has moved from age 60 to age 65. The penalty has also increased from 3 per cent to 5 per cent a year if workers retire before 65. Workers have to work longer and they have to pay more if they retire earlier. And because it is a target plan and not a defined-benefit plan, there is no guarantee of what your actual pension will be. The plan will only guarantee indexing of the retirees' benefits if the plan can afford it. If we have a downturn in the economy, all bets are off, there is no guarantee of indexing."

There were many demonstrations of active and retired workers during 2013 against the changes to the pension plan. The retirees in particular have been very vocal against the New Brunswick government's breach of trust and its contract with them. They recalled that when they joined the pension plan under the PSSA, there was a contractual obligation recognized by the government according to which they would receive defined retirement benefits fully indexed to the cost of living. They worked their whole careers under that contract and this is why in many cases they did not change jobs -- the pension security was the incentive to stay. The passing of the legislation, they said, broke that contract.

In order to try to silence the retirees, the New Brunswick government added a written guarantee to the legislation that the current retirees' benefits will never decrease. The retirees have not been deceived by this. They rightly point out that if the government used legislation to break their contract, they will not hesitate to do so in the future on the basis of some other exceptional circumstances. Besides, now that the government has decided by law to put a cap on the amount of money it is going to put into the fund regardless of circumstances, it is left to the active workers to increase their contributions to the plan so as not to reduce the retirees' benefits should the plan be declared to be in a crisis. Under Bill 11, the government will no longer be the plan administrator. The converted plan will now be administered as a joint trusteeship with a board made up of representatives from both the employer and the public sector unions. The retirees consider this move a way for the government to shift its responsibilities to others, putting pressure on the unions to increase the workers' contributions or allow the retirees' benefits to decrease.

The Pension Coalition New Brunswick announced that despite the bill coming into force, the fight carries on. It is looking into the possibility of a legal challenge on the constitutionality of Bill 11 and pledges to be active in organizing the defeat of the Alward Conservatives in the next provincial election this fall.

Meanwhile, the Alward government has announced that it is planning to convert the defined-benefit pension plans of other public sector workers into the so-called shared-risk model.

The shared-risk pension model was itself enshrined in law in New Brunswick. in 2012. The PSSA is the ninth pension plan in the province to adopt this model.

(Photos: Pension Coaltion NB)

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Quebec Government Going Further in Anti-Labour Restructuring of Defined-Benefits Pension Plans

The Quebec government held three forums the week of January 21 as part of its action plan for what it calls the restructuring of defined-benefit pension plans. The forums brought together business and labour representatives from three sectors -- municipalities, academia and the private sector -- with one forum per sector.

The action plan, published in December 2013, is entitled, "Towards fair and sustainable pensions" and provides a two-year process to restructure defined-benefit pension plans with the stated aim of eliminating deficits which, according to the government, threaten the plans. The government states that it is through the involvement of the parties, through negotiations, that the issue will be resolved. It plans to adopt no less than two laws which would set conditions currently signed at the negotiating table such as the percentage of employer/worker contributions to pension funds.

The Minister of Labour and Employment Agnès Maltais described the forums as a success on the road to negotiations between the parties on pension plans for which there is consensus in Quebec.

"Firstly, everyone agrees, there is a consensus [on the fact] that negotiations must take priority, negotiations should prevail. Secondly, the government will introduce the legislation quickly, we're talking February," said the minister.

According to the government, the consensus is based on the recognition that defined-benefit pension plans are in crisis. In the government's action plan, Minister Maltais also said that there is consensus in Quebec that pension plans are in financial trouble and that the "status quo is not an option." It gives as evidence the huge solvency deficits reported by many of these plans. These deficits are actuarial projections of future performance of the pension plans. The media spreads the most alarming figures on these projected deficits especially regarding pensions in the municipal sector, which we are told would be about $5 billion.

The government does not plan to challenge or verify the assertion that pensions are in crisis and, if so, why. Instead of seizing the opportunity to launch a serious and informed public discussion on the state of these plans and the problems they are facing, the Quebec government bases itself on the premise that the plans are in crisis and that workers must pay more in the name of the survival of the plans and the defence of contributors. The refusal to discuss the state of pensions permits them, among other things, to avoid examining the role that employers' contribution holidays have played in the state of pension plans, the role of the loss of workers' money in speculative ventures on the markets, and the role of the destruction of manufacturing in lowering the social production which is the source of pensions, and particularly the proliferation of early retirements. This especially permits them to avoid taking a principled stand that workers, who produce the social wealth, goods and services that make society function, have already financed the pension funds and a portion of the social wealth must be set aside to guarantee decent pensions for workers and for everyone. If these and other relevant questions are not subjected to public discussion, this will all be a manoeuvre to further attack the right to pensions through anti-labour restructuring.

Demonstrations to defend jobs and pensions by Quebec forestry workers. At left, AbitibiBowater workers in Montreal, May 15, 2009; at right: Fraser paper workers in Gatineau, January 1, 2010. The forestry monopolies have worked closely with the Quebec government to attack retirees' pensions and benefits.

We can already see that the measures in the bills being prepared put the burden of the problems and restructuring on active workers and retirees. It already seems to be a given that the bill to be presented in February will make a 50/50 split for worker/employer contributions mandatory for future public sector plans. This was already part of the government's December 2013 action plan.

It also seems to be a given that the bill will include mechanisms to make workers and even retirees bear the brunt of past public pension plan deficits. According to the minister, "I said that if it was necessary, and this is important, if the negotiation results in the fact that in order to sustain a pension plan we must open up the past, we would give people the opportunity. We were very clear on that."

The government's bill even considers taking money from retirees, who could see their benefits attacked in the name of deficit repayments to pension plans. At the end of one of the forums, Minister Maltais expressed her readiness to pass legislation to make this possible: "If it's the way for the partners to solve their problems, we have a duty during this exceptional period -- because it will take two years -- to explore all means." Refusing to take responsibility for the problems this will cause between unions and retirees, she added that employers will need to obtain the consent of the unions before going into pensioners' pockets. "We are in the field of labour relations, everything passes through negotiations." With this bill the government is proposing one more way to steal money from retirees, then it will say, "You're the ones who negotiated it."

The references to negotiations that are constantly coming from the minister's mouth will, according to the government's plan, look like this. Following the forum, a period of negotiations between employers and unions is supposed to start and should last a maximum of six months. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the process provides for a two-stage mechanism: first, a conciliator will be appointed by the Ministry of Labour for six months, and then, if necessary, the Labour Relations Commission will intervene and make the decision.

Quebec working people should reject both the process and content of this endeavour. Pensions are a right. The government must recognize this right and guarantee it in practice.

(Translated from original French. Photos: TML, CEP)

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