The provincial government’s plan to overhaul public sector pensions have hit a major snag.
The province largest union, the Union of Public Sector Employees, said plans for pension reform are too radical and the government is trying to balance its budget on the back of its members and their pensions.
Debbie Bovyer, president of the Union of Public Sector Employees, compares Finance Minister Wes Sheridan's plans for pension reform to the 7.5 per cent cut to public salaries in the 1990s.
"Well I would think it’s going to be bigger than seven and a half percent,” she said.
"Anybody that's early in their career, there is the potential of getting anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent less in your pension plan when you retire.”
Sheridan had planned a media briefing for Friday and then a news conference but UPSE would not agree.
He wanted the five public sector unions there and on side. The unions represent a wide range of government workers including teachers, nurses and civil servants.
Boyer there were shouts of anger over a union letter to its members. It warned workers government would pass legislation to slash benefits and pensions.
"That is one of the inaccuracies that’s being put forth by this one union and by having everyone still at the table it would just contradict what is being said in that letter,” said Sheridan.
“The pension working group had a meeting last night and we had some tough discussions last night … we left the meeting believing the technical briefing would still go ahead," said Bovyer.
But Sheridan cancelled that briefing and news conference.
“He was unhappy with the pension letter that we had sent out to our members to have them sign and return to their MLAs. He suggested that it caused pension hysteria, that there’s a number of people looking to pull their money out of the pension plan before these changes are made," said Bovyer.
“This is the unfortunate part of this, we’re putting out these types of inaccuracies at a time when it’s important that we get fact out to all of these members,” said Sheridan.
Opposition Leader Steven Myers blames Sheridan's negotiating tactics
“He chooses to deal with it on the 11th hour and take everything away to try make the books balanced so he looks good,” said Myers.
Bovyer said Sheridan is trying to balance his budget through pension reform, but the finance minister rejects that.
“It is no cuts to pensions, no cuts to pensions — make that very, very clear. These inaccuracies are nothing but fear-mongering,” said Sheridan
UPSE is beginning a very public campaign against these pension reforms, with newspaper ads beginning Saturday followed by meetings with their membership next week.
The other unions said they're still at the bargaining table and still hope to find meaningful pension reform.