The mayor of Regina called stakeholders back to the bargaining table Thursday morning to figure out the next steps in resolving the city's pension deficit issue.
Employer groups, including the city, and employee groups are racing against an end of year deadline set by the provincial regulator.
Mayor Michael Fougere says he's asked the 21 employee groups for several meetings since June to negotiate pension possibilities.
"They have not responded. They have not agreed to meet at any dates at all and that's why we are saying it is an absolutely critical stage. Time is of the essence," Fougere told reporters at city hall Thursday morning.
However, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says it has been working to resolve the issue.
"It's unfortunate that they're saying that we are refusing to meet with them because we ourselves asked to meet with them and the superintendent last Friday," said Debbie Mihial, national representative for CUPE.
Another employee representative said it is very difficult to organize all of the employee groups.
"It's not a matter of refusal. People work. People have summer schedules. We have to regroup ourselves and we have to honour our deal," said Janet Craig, a representative for CUPE Local 5094.
About 7,000 employees and pensioners are facing uncertainty for their retirements after the Superintendent of Pensions threatened to end the pension plan, which has a large deficit.
According to the city, the plan - as of 2013 - has a funding shortfall of $240 million. The city's calculation includes a "safety margin" of 10 per cent of the liabilities. Without the safety margin, the deficit is about $117 million.
The pension plan involves five different employee groups, including current and retired workers from the city (with 2,936 plan members) and the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region (with 2,448 plan members).
Last year, the employee groups and the employer groups came to an agreement on the pension plan. Both sides signed a letter of intent to prove their commitment last fall. However, the provincial regulator rejected the letter saying there were too many issues that hadn't been resolved.
Problems with agreement says superintendent
The Superintendent of Pensions said there were three major problems with the agreement.
First, that the contribution rates employees and employers would make were too high and simply unsustainable.
There is also a problem with younger employees, who have less time served, subsidizing the pensions of senior employees.
Finally, the superintendent said it is becoming virtually impossible for both sides to come to an agreement because they can each veto any proposed changes.
These conflicts must be resolved by the end of the year or city pensions could be at risk.
Fougere said the city and the employer groups still believe the letter of intent is a strong basis for an agreement, but they recognize changes need to be made to satisfy the provincial regulator.
"If we can keep this current plan, make it sustainable - that's the preferred option versus having something wound down and the financial burden of the current plan on the shoulders of taxpayers --that would be not what we want to see," said Fougere.
The employee groups also say they believe the agreed to letter of intent is still a good framework for moving ahead with the agreement and resolution.
"I am very happy to hear that Mayor Fougere said the letter of intent is basis," said Craig.