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September 8, 2014

The Fight of Quebec Municipal Workers for
Their Right to a Secure Pension

Blame the Government and Not the Workers for Criminal Behaviour!

Demonstration in Defence of
Municipal Workers' Pensions

Saturday, September 20 -- 12:00 noon
Parc Lafontaine (corner of Sherbrooke and Parc La Fontaine)
Organized by: Coalition syndicale pour la libre négociation
For information: 438-882-3756

The Fight of Quebec Municipal Workers for Their Right to a Secure Pension
Blame the Government and Not the Workers for Criminal Behaviour! - Forum ouvrier
Couillard Government's Bill 3 -- Legislated Extortion to Wreck Pensions - Claude Moreau

Federal Public Service
The Fight of Public Servants to Defend Their Rights - Louis Lang

Thunder Bay Bombardier Workers Holding On Against Extortion
Our Strike Is About the Future of the Union - Interview, Dominic Pasqualino, President, Unifor Local 1075

The Fight of Quebec Municipal Workers for Their Right to a Secure Pension

Blame the Government and Not the Workers for
Criminal Behaviour!

Demonstration of municipal workers at the Quebec National Assembly against Couillard government's Loi 3 which attacks their right to a secure retirement, August 20, 2014.

The following editorial is taken from the September issue of Forum ouvrier, a magazine published by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec.


No to the criminalization of municipal workers!
All out to defend the right to security in retirement!
The real criminals -- those who steal pensions to pay the rich and establish and defend the government's fraudulent accounting!

Forum ouvrier unequivocally denounces the Couillard government's criminalization of municipal workers. According to the Premier, workers are thugs if they use methods  he does not approve of to make themselves heard. He says only those who respect democratic institutions and harmonious, civilized and peaceful processes deserve to be heard; others deserve to be penalized. This is of course where the fraud lies because he does not listen to anyone whose views he disagrees with, no matter how they express themselves.

Who is being uncivil? First the government announced it will enact a bill that excludes pensions from city employees' collective bargaining. Then the government and municipalities denounced each of the workers' protests as "uncivilized" and waged a campaign against them in the monopoly-owned media. When municipal workers went to Montreal City Hall on August 18 to be heard, they were blocked and then criminalized. It was after that demonstration 44 criminal charges were brought against participants for mischief, assault and unlawful assembly. In addition the city has ordered disciplinary investigations against 63 individuals. This includes suspensions without pay for 39 of them because they refused to attack their colleagues whom the city council refused to hear!

Where is the civility in that, Mr. Couillard? Once the government unilaterally destroyed the social contract with workers and eliminated what is called the civilized way to communicate and negotiate, it must bear the responsibility for the anarchy that follows and the violence that goes with it. Today the theft of pensions is done in broad daylight and then the government cuts off all channels of communication. To stop what the government calls violence, it has to stop its own anarchic conduct and impunity.

Democratic institutions can operate only when people can see with their own eyes that a rule of law is respected which guarantees a notion of fairness and justice acceptable to the body politic. Once the government becomes arbitrary and acts with impunity, with false justifications for its unacceptable actions, it becomes responsible for the failure to respect democratic institutions and the rule of law.

Just as the Charest government refused to listen to the students and their proposals for alternatives in 2012, so too the Couillard government has introduced fraudulent accounting to steal pensions and does everything in its power to suppress the municipal workers. This refusal to act in a civilized manner hides the seizure of public funds to pay the rich and the fact that the Couillard government is not interested in solving any of the problems society faces. This is the problem that must be addressed, not that workers should submit to an abstract notion of "civility" that does not allow them to express themselves. When they try to go through the democratic institutions, such as city council, they are blocked. When frustrations erupt, they are criminalized. It could not be clearer that the government wants to impose the dictate "Resist and you will get nothing." It must not pass! The truth is that without resistance, the workers will end up with nothing!

Couillard's discourse on civility is fraud pure and simple. He ignores anyone opposed to the sell-out of Quebec's resources to private interests. Meanwhile, the use of state force remains the main weapon of the democratic institutions when workers defend their rights and the rights of all. This is the very same Philippe Couillard who demands submission to civilized methods that put the infamous Arthur Porter in charge of the McGill mega-hospital project where the latter stole large sums of public money, which he had already done in Detroit. Is this what is meant by civilized? It seems to be, since both men have been protected by the law.

The real crime is that the present democratic institutions allow governments and private interests to steal the workers' retirement funds. Recall the loss of billions of dollars through adventurist investments by the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec, one of the biggest repositories of pension funds in Canada. A handful of crooks pocketed all that money through sleight of hand, but that is not considered a crime. It is "business as usual." But when workers are pushed to the limit and have had enough, who will hold Mr. Couillard and company to account? On the contrary, it is the workers who are criminalized. That is what is intolerable.

Forum ouvrier blames the government of Quebec and the municipalities for this situation. Where is the law that protects city workers against the theft of their pensions? Who is stealing them and for what purpose?

No to the Criminalization of Municipal Workers!
All Out to Defend their Just Cause Against the Theft of their Retirement Funds!
All Out for the September 20 demonstrations in Montreal to Demand the Withdrawal of Bill 3!

Demonstration outside the Quebec National Assembly, May 21, 2014.

(Translated from original French. Photos: SCFP)

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Couillard Government's Bill 3 --
Legislated Extortion to Wreck Pensions

Bill 3, An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans is a direct attack against workers and society as a whole. The government should immediately withdraw the bill and uphold the right of all to security in retirement.

The Couillard government tabled the bill on June 12 and it is currently undergoing special consultations and public hearings in the Committee on Planning and the Public Domain.

Main Features of the Bill

The bill removes questions related to municipal employee pensions from the bargaining table. It sets 50-50 contribution rates for upcoming pensions and bans any automatic indexing. It breaks existing contracts and requires workers and retirees to pay 50 per cent of predicted actuarial deficits, which were the municipalities' responsibility. Workers will have to pay these deficits with benefits already received. For retirees, the bill allows municipalities to cancel indexing of their pensions and use that money to pay off the deficits.

The bill imposes "good faith bargaining" which consists of determining what pension benefits will be cut and also permits unions to sacrifice other benefits acquired in the collective agreement, such as salaries and paid leave, to return to a 60-40 split (60 per cent for municipalities, 40 per cent for workers). This is what is called "room for negotiation" and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, Pierre Moreau, was pleased to announce that people had forgotten that they would be able to reduce the deficit to a 60-40 split. The bill establishes a restructuring process providing a "negotiation" period of one year, with a one-time extension of three months. The parties may resort to conciliation and in case negotiations fail, the Minister may appoint an arbitrator to settle the dispute, who has six months to take a decision.

Rally outside city hall in Montreal, June 17, against the planned changes to
municipal workers' pension plans.

It is important to note that Bill 3 has not yet been adopted, but it is already being applied. It applies retroactively from the date it was tabled in the National Assembly, June 12. If adopted, those who have retired after June 12 will be considered active workers -- pension contributors -- not retirees. Those who retire now and are entitled to certain benefits with their pension could lose them in addition to losing their indexation. That's why about 80 firefighters from Montreal retired the same day the bill was filed, in order to safeguard against these changes.

Extortion and Embezzlement

This law will, among other things, impoverish seniors by ending the indexation of their pensions. If this passes, what then prevents the Pension Board from cutting or deducting the indexation of those receiving a Quebec pension? The federal government has already gradually pushed the retirement age to 67 years instead 65 without invoking any reason of financial difficulty whatsoever. The Quebec government, with its Pension Board, for its part increased the penalties for those who take their pension at age 60.

With Bill 3, the government is removing something counted on by pensioners whose fixed income makes them vulnerable to the rising cost of living. There is no question that smashing negotiations on the issue of pensions is opening the door to attack seniors everywhere. Which seniors are next on the list?

This general offensive against pension plans also raises the question: what is considered negotiable? What position are the workers in when pension plans are removed from the scope of collective bargaining? Workers no longer have the right to submit demands to the bargaining table, such as the demand that the employer contributes more to pensions.

The government claims it is acting according to taxpayers' ability to pay, but taxpayers also become retirees at some point. With this argument, the government is also trying to wash its hands of the loss of billions of dollars through the reckless investment of the workers' pension funds. A handful of financial industry crooks pocketed all that money with smoke and mirrors.

It is important to understand that we are dealing with a significant diversion of monies from the pension funds. Not only with the contribution holidays municipalities took in the past, but also with the example of Quebec City where surplus funds were used to lower the tax bill for taxpayers. That money is no longer in an account and is no longer producing anything. La Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec receives funds from several pension plans. The Quebec Pension Board (20 per cent of its funds) and the provincial government employees' pension fund (RREGOP) (50 per cent of its funds), together account for more than 70 per cent of the Caisse's deposits, which as of June 30 are worth $214 billion.

Sherbrooke, August 20, 2014

This summer, the Caisse was allowed to increase its proportion of overseas investments.

On June 2, Director of the Caisse Michael Sabia said he wanted more pension and insurance resources used to speculate on the market abroad in the service of large companies to help them play on the world market. He said, "It is our responsibility, our duty to become a global organization capable of getting returns where they exist and serving as a bridge between the Quebec economy and the world."

In 2008, tens of billions of dollars of investments in commercial paper went up in smoke, of which the Caisse was one of the biggest buyers. The government has not seen fit to protect the retirement savings of millions of Quebeckers (not just union members but all those who contribute to the Quebec Pension Plan for example). The government increasingly intervenes to serve as a bridge for companies to the global market by handing over all of our resources, including monies from retirement funds. These defenders of taxpayers and equity are the very people who created the crisis, who now create drama to try to profit from the trouble they have caused.

If one considers the municipalities' logic, one can see that the municipal mergers served to consolidate the physical, human and financial resources. The cities become significant hubs to attract big business. Cuts in retirement benefits and workers paying higher premiums releases enormous amounts of funds, which are made available to the monopolies. Mr. Sabia said that we need to further internationalize the Quebec economy, which is done with major players, not small fry.

The municipal workers' struggle is important and everyone should support it. Workers know that the public sector workers and Quebec government employees will be the next to be attacked.

All Out for Security in Retirement! Hand Off Pensions!

(Translated from original French. Photos: SCFP)

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Federal Public Service

The Fight of Public Servants to Defend Their Rights

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) which represents the 27 bargaining units with over 100,000 members has recently filed an unfair labour practice complaint in response to the unilateral actions of the Treasury Board of Canada to "claw back sick leave benefits from employees." PSAC contends that Treasury Board has been sending misleading communications to public service workers while the two sides are in negotiations announcing its intention to impose a Short Term Disability scheme to replace the present provisions of the contract which provide a system of paid sick leave.

The PSAC complaint alleges that the Treasury Board is violating its duty to bargain in good faith and that their actions "constitute interference with PSAC's representation employees contrary to the Public Service Labour Relations Act."

PSAC is demanding that Treasury Board discuss all issues regarding the contract at the bargaining table which they have failed to do since negotiations began on July 7.

There have been several bargaining sessions since then and negotiations have now been adjourned and are set to resume in September.

In a recent report to members on negotiations PSAC pointed out that Treasury Board did table "an insulting wage proposal of 0.5 per cent per year for four years." This amounts to a wage cut when inflation is factored in.

The Harper government has been preparing this attack against the over 100,000 public service workers since 2011 and 2012 when it used brutal back-to-work legislation to intimidate postal workers into accepting a "collective agreement" with many roll-backs including the replacement of sick leave benefits with a short term disability plan (STD).

Attacks by Canada Post on its workers' right to sick leave, in 2008 against workers organized in PSAC and in 2011 against workers organized in the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

It is clear that there is a financial advantage for Treasury Board to eliminate the right of sick leave benefits because the overall value of the wages and benefits that the workers have won through negotiations is reduced. But this attack of the Harper conservatives is much more insidious. Through the STD, Harper has introduced the privatization of the management of the disability plan, contracting it out to huge multi-national insurance companies. This eliminates the raison d'etre for sick leave benefits which was to protect workers from loss of earnings when they were incapacitated due to illness because it eliminates the responsibility of the employer to uphold their responsibility to the workers. Under the STD workers are forced to justify their illness to some outside entity. All avenues for redress in case of unjust treatment, like the grievance procedure are eliminated and approval of disability benefits is completely at the discretion of the "Disability Management Provider."

In the case of the postal workers for instance, Manulife Financial is the "Disability Management Provider." Article 20.15 of the CUPW contract states as follows:

"Any decisions made by the Disability Management Provider and the independent medical physician are not subject to the grievance procedure in the collective agreement."

Clearly the intent of the STD imposed by the Harper Conservatives is not only aimed at imposing further financial hardship on workers who are unable to work due to illness, but it is also intended to humiliate and subject workers to an insulting "appeals procedure," in which the private insurance monopoly is the sole arbiter and the workers are forced to provide private and confidential medical information, and whatever is demanded of them to justify their illness. The STD and the way it has functioned for postal workers and others fails to fully protect the wages of workers when they are ill and it is a direct attack on the dignity of the workers.

PSAC and all its bargaining units have declared that they will not give up their sick leave benefits. PSAC recently stated, "The Conservative government wants to strip away sick leave rights and is planning to contract out the management of the sick leave system. We say that unless this government wants to talk about improving what we already have, we aren't interested!"

Federal public service workers deserve the support of all Canadian workers in this important battle to defend their rights against the attacks of the Harper government.

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Thunder Bay Bombardier Workers Holding On Against Extortion

Our Strike Is About the Future of the Union

Striking Bombardier workers leaflet outside Spadina subway station in Toronto, August 12. The Bombardier plant builds vehicles for the TTC.

Workers'Forum: The Bombardier workers in Thunder Bay have been on strike since July 14. You had a vote on the company offer on August 26. Can you tell us how it went?

Dominic Pasqualino: That vote was set by the government. Basically, the company forced a vote. The company's offer was rejected by 80 per cent of the workers who were there. We had 751 people who woted and we have about 900 in the membership. I would say that the ones that did not vote are people who have already gotten work at other places or were out of town that day. Everybody knew about the vote. The company had sent out a package with their offer to all the members. There was a huge campaign by the company -- they had radio ads, full-page newspaper ads suggesting that the workers should accept the offer. They went out and they had a letter from management saying to accept the offer, that it is going to be a cold winter, you do not want to be out in the winter, your kids will be have no clothes for school. The other thing is that when they delivered these they actually delivered them by courier or by taxi to every member -- 900 of those packages went out. In fact some of the places they delivered to are 30 to 40 miles away. They had lots of money for this stuff that is for sure. The company said that that was going to be their last offer regardless but what I heard today is that the talks are scheduled to resume on Tuesday, September 2.

WF: Why do you think the vote against the offer was that high?

DP: Our members are upset at the cuts to the retirement benefits which affect half of the membership. They are also upset at the attempt by the company to impose a reduced pension plan for newer employees. All new employees will no longer have a defined benefit pension plan, but a defined contribution plan. We're looking at a two tier-pension system and for us this is totally unacceptable. Our members are also upset at how aggressive the company is. They feel that if they are doing this now when the plant is full -- they have $3 billion worth of work in the plant -- then what is going to happen three years from now when we are negotiating again and maybe the plant will be operating at lower capacity?

We are also upset at how much work they are sending off to Mexico as well. Throughout the past couple of years, they have been contracting more and more work out to Mexico. For example, the GO Train frames used to be built here in Thunder Bay and now they are being built in Mexico. There are doors that are being built in China that we used to build here in the plant. It seems that whenever they can find ways of outsourcing work to other countries they have been doing that. That is also an issue with the strike but it is a difficult one, it is hard to see how we are going to find a solution to that.

WF: The local media have been quoting company representatives saying that Bombardier is getting ready to make "tough necessary decisions" now that their offer has been rejected. What do you expect will happen?

DP: I guess we will find out soon. Are they planning now that we have rejected their offer to move more product to Mexico? I don't know. It will depend on how much resistance the membership will give and how much the Ontario government and the Toronto Transit Commission will give. [The TTC is one of the biggest customers of Bombardier -- WF Editor's Note.]

As far as we are concerned, the main issue amounts to pensions and benefits. Those are the biggest factors. We are not asking for a huge increase. We do not believe that our children should be sacrificed for more money for our people now. We are a union that understands that if you do that you are dividing the unity amongst the members. We feel that our fight is about the future of our union.

WF: What other actions have you been waging besides picketing?

DP: We have been going down to Toronto. We have been talking to the customers and telling them some of the things that are going on here in the plant. We are telling them that the company is having managers work on the cars. We don't feel that they are qualified to work on the cars, certainly they don't have the experience that our members have. We are telling them that there are going to be excessive delays because even if management does our jobs with some level of quality, which they are not, then there are going to be delays because certainly they can't do it as quickly as we would do it. We think that this is an issue that the customers should be dealing with.

Bombardier workers outside TTC headquarters,  August 14, 2014

We also had a big march down to our local MPP Bill Mauro's office. The Liberals are not getting involved in this, they are saying that this is a private sector problem, let them deal with it. We are saying that really you should be looking at it because if Bombardier does not get back to work soon this is going to be a problem in terms of the local economy and the services. Also we will have an issue if they start bringing scabs in here. That is something the Liberals can deal with. We are also telling them that they should be able to build up some higher Canadian content for these jobs so that they don't just send everything to Mexico.

WF: Are you receiving good support from other unions and people in Thunder Bay?

DP: We have a lot of support from other local unions and the community. I can't go to any event without 10 people telling me that we are doing the right thing. We are getting several cheques from other local unions, we have some substantial donations. When our next cheques come out there is going to be $5,000 worth of school supplies available to the children of the members. Mind you there also some people writing letters to the media saying that we should be grateful we have a job. I do not know if those kinds of people they are company trolls or what.

I hope we can talk to you again about a settlement that is acceptable to our members. That is the whole point. A settlement is easy but a fair settlement is hard.

Thunder Bay rally, August 25, supports striking Bombardier workers.

(Photos: UNIFOR, PSAC)

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