Manitoba

City trying to save money 'off the backs of police officers' with pension plan proposal: union

Winnipeg city council will vote Thursday on whether to make significant changes to the police pension plan — a move the city says could save millions of dollars, but which the police union argues would violate a collective agreement.

Winnipeg city council to vote Thursday on proposed changes to police pension plan

Winnipeg city council will vote Thursday on a bylaw amendment that would equalize pension contributions between the city and police officers, and end the practice of counting overtime pay as pensionable earnings. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Winnipeg city council will vote Thursday on whether to make significant changes to the police pension plan — a move the city says could save millions of dollars, but which the police union argues would violate a collective agreement.

A report submitted to council's executive policy committee earlier this month asserts the pension plan for the city's police officers provides benefits not available in other major pension plans, has an imbalance of contributions, and is too expensive.

If passed, amendments to the police pension bylaw would come into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, and would save the city $1.5 million annually by ending the practice of counting overtime pay as pensionable earnings.

The city says it would save millions more through equalizing the pension contributions of the city and police union members, and by altering early retirement provisions.

Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, says he plans to speak out against the changes at Thursday's meeting. 

"The thing that that actually bothers me is that they are trying to implement these changes, which they can't, because those changes are all negotiated," he said Wednesday.

"Our pension is part of our collective agreement, and they are trying to realize cost savings off the backs of police officers that are out there trying to protect the community on a daily basis."

Many police officers have told him they're "panicked" about the potential changes to their pension, and whether they might affect their plans to retire. At least 200 members of the union are eligible for retirement at this time, Sabourin said. 

He says he expects a large delegation of police officers and their family members to attend as well, Sabourin said. 

'Unsustainable pensions': Bowman

The City of Winnipeg is in the midst of a budget-planning process that calls for small increases or freezes for city departments over the next four years, including an annual two per cent increase in the police budget.

Money saved by changes to the police pension plan would be earmarked for police operations, the city says.

On Tuesday, Mayor Brian Bowman urged other members of council not to shy away from making a difficult decision to protect police jobs.

"What council will ultimately have to decide is whether they want those dollars in unsustainable pensions, or do they want to protect front-line police officer positions."

The city argues its contribution to the plan is "disproportionately high compared to other similar pension plans."

According to the report presented to EPC, the city's current contribution to the police pension plan is 18.48 per cent of pensionable earnings, while members of the police service contribute eight per cent of earnings.

In contrast, the plan covering all other City of Winnipeg employees is based on an equal split of contributions by employee and employer.

The city wants its contribution and that of police union members equalized at 11.5 per cent.

With files from Sean Kavanagh

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