Retired Co-Op Atlantic employees who lost almost a third of their pensions after the Moncton-based co-operative got into financial trouble have filed a proposed class action seeking payment of promised annuity benefits.

Co-Op Atlantic once operated more than 150 grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations, but started closing them in 2015 and applied for creditor protection from bankruptcy.

'Our pension wasn't indexed, no cost of living or nothing, so 32 per cent is quite a hit to take right off the bat.' - Ed Hanscomb, lead plaintiff

Retired employees said they'd been told their pensions were protected by government, but the pension fund was underfunded by $31 million when the co-op filed for protection.

When the co-op's pension plan was wound up, the former employees were told their pensions would be cut 32 per cent.

The two defendants in the proposed class action are Co-operators Life Insurance Company, which provided and maintained annuities on behalf of the retired employees, and Eckler Ltd., which administered the Co-Op Atlantic pension plan.

Ed Hanscomb, the lead plaintiff, said he worked at  Co-Op Atlantic or 40 years, beginning as a meat-cutter in Saint John and working his way up to food manager, based in Fredericton. He retired from the co-op in 2004.

Losing 32 per cent of his pension put his family's life on hold, he said.

"We had this guarantee that we thought we were going to have for the rest of our life," Hanscomb said Wednesday.

"Our pension wasn't indexed, no cost of living or nothing, so 32 per cent is quite a hit to take right off the bat."

Co op Atlantic

About 1,200 people in Atlantic Canada who worked at Co-op Atlantic had their pensions reduced 32 per cent in 2016. ((CBC))

Lawyer Ray Wagner, who will represent the retired employees, said they are simply seeking what they were told they would get.

"We're looking for restoration of what was promised to them, and that's the additional 30 per cent that has been taken away," Wagner said Wednesday.

"A number of the ex-employees, retirees, have been on a pension for a number of years, and they are more elderly. Very difficult for them to go back and start a new career."

'Nothing more, nothing less'

Like many other couples, Hanscomb said, he and his wife had to make many adjustments after the pension cut.

The loss of security among retired employees was something he saw on a larger scale at a meeting in 2015.

"A lot of people there really were really hurt because of it," he said.

"It really bothered me to hear and see those people that had been left with almost nothing."

Hanscomb said he wants to turn the situation around and get back what he worked four decades for.

"Just to get back my pension. That's all … and all the others that were affected by it — that would be my wish. Nothing more, nothing less."