Manitoba

Officers 'angry and frustrated' as city approves changes to police pension plan: union

The union representing Winnipeg's police officers says its collective agreement has been violated, following a 9-7 council vote on Thursday to amend the city's police pension plan.

City council voted 9-7 Thursday in favour of changes to pension plan expected to save $33M over 4 years

Police officers, retirees and their families filled the gallery on Thursday as Winnipeg City Council voted on proposed changes to the city's police pension plan. Council voted 9-7 in favour of the changes. (John Einarson/CBC)

A long day of debate at Winnipeg city hall didn't end well for the union that represents more than 1,400 city police officers. 

Despite a huge presence at Thursday's council meeting from officers, their families and their retired colleagues, the Winnipeg Police Association's plea for the city to leave the police pension unchanged came up empty.

In a close decision, city council voted 9-7 in favour of a motion that would make amendments to the police pension plan, including removing overtime as pensionable salary.

Heated debate on the proposal had been going on for weeks, with the cash-strapped city arguing it will save millions, while the union said the move would violate a collective agreement.

Winnipeg Police Association president Maurice Sabourin said the changes are a slap in the face to the city's police officers, as crime continues to escalate in Winnipeg and officers are facing an increasing workload, stress and illness.

"This is the big thank you," he said following Thursday's vote.

"The city is changing a pension plan that we have negotiated the conditions [of] for the past 40 years. A deal is a deal is a deal. To break that — our members are feeling very frustrated and angry."

Savings to be redirected to police budget

In addition to removing overtime from pensionable salary, the amendments to the pension plan included changes to early retirement provisions, and altering what the city has called a contribution split that is "disproportionately high compared to other similar pension plans."

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.

Under the amendment, that will gradually change each year until 2024, when the city's and members' contributions will be equalized at 11.5 per cent.

The reforms will be implemented April 1, 2020.

The city estimates the changes will save an estimated $32.9 million from 2020-23. 

The city also voted on Thursday to redirect $14.74 million of those savings over the four-year period to the Winnipeg Police Service's operating budget, to head off job cuts the police service warned may be necessary to meet the city's budget targets.

Sabourin calls the move an insult and a mistake. 

"It is not right to expect the pension plan of our members to be paying for operational services of the Winnipeg Police Service, any more than you would expect transit operators to pay out of their pension to keep fares lower, or public employees to pay from their own pockets to build new bridges," Sabourin said following Thursday's vote.

The police union has already filed a grievance over the issue.

Concerned about cuts, not pensions

Councillors opposed to changing the pension plan said the city is setting itself up for a lawsuit. Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) warned massive legal bills could eat up any savings the city sees through the changes.

"What if we lose in court? The money we promised to hire more officers, we wouldn't have that anymore," said Klein.

Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) voted against the amendments, but before that, she told her colleagues it's time to stop pouring city resources into law enforcement and look at other ways to increase safety in the city.

"We need to stop being reactive to the symptoms. We need to be proactive, get our kids off the streets," she said. "Get these kids into schooling, eating healthy. Support our growing multi-cultural families by offering them a safe community space."

The pension plan changes come as the city is looking at considerable belt-tightening in a budget-planning process that calls for small increases or freezes for city departments over the next four years.

Santos says residents in her ward are telling her they are worried about proposed cuts to transit, community centres and forestry. She says no one raised concerns about altering police pensions.

Sabourin said that in light of the coming change, he is worried the 200 officers currently eligible to retire will submit their retirement papers now, leaving even fewer officers on the force. The police union president said he received 15 emails from members sitting in the gallery during the council meeting saying they are planning to retire.

Some councillors wanted to delay the vote until the matter had been heard by a labour arbitrator.

That proposal was defeated.

Corrections

  • We initially reported that Coun. Vivian Santos voted in favour of the amendments. In fact, she voted against them.
    Nov 22, 2019 9:47 AM CT

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.