Nova Scotia

Halifax Water strike fuelled by dispute over pension

Halifax Water and the union representing striking employees remain at odds over what to do about pensions, a sticking point in the labour dispute.

The union has presented a new plan it says will save Halifax Water $1.8M more than their own proposal

Now in its eighth week, the Halifax Water strike has endured several proposals that have been submitted and rejected by both sides. (CBC)

Halifax Water and the union representing striking employees remain at odds over what to do about pensions, a sticking point in the labour dispute.

The union representing Halifax Water employees has presented what it says is a new cost-saving pension proposal to the utility and representatives say they hope it will be enough to make Halifax Water management move toward a resolution.

Now in its eighth week, the Halifax Water strike has endured several proposals that have been submitted and rejected by both sides. The union says it recently submitted a plan to Halifax Water actuaries that will save $1.8 million more than management's current proposal.

Halifax Water management, however, says the math doesn't add up. 

The strike began on May 19 after the utility announced it would be making changes to employee pension plans. Members of CUPE Locals 227 and 1431 have since been camped out at various Halifax Water locations in the municipality.

Local 1431 President Heather Corkum says the main sticking point is still about management versus employee pensions.

Corkum says anyone making less than $141,000 a year would have their pension earnings indexed at two per cent to account for increases in the cost of living. 

Anyone making more than that would have their pension earnings capped for at least 10 years. 

"To be honest with you, the people that are making that kind of money, they can certainly afford to invest in RRSPs, invest in [a] tax free savings account, or whatever they'd like to do," Corkum said. 

Currently, there are seven senior managers making more than $141,000 a year.

Halifax Water response

"It would be a small number, but of course that number will increase as time goes on," said Halifax Water spokesperson James Campbell.

"So, if you freeze that, eventually there will be a lot of people who will bump up against that, including CUPE members over time." 

Campbell said Halifax Water management has offered two proposals that preserve 93 and 95 per cent of what union members currently have as part of their pensions.

Those proposals were rejected without a vote because the union felt they were incomplete.

Halifax Water unionized employee Greg Prime says he is dipping into his retirement savings now that the strike has continued into its eighth week. (CBC)

Greg Prime, who's been a fleet vehicle mechanic for almost eight years, says $300 of strike pay a week is not enough and he's starting to feel the strain. 

"I've cashed out retirement savings that I had put aside since I was 24. I'm now 41," he said. "So I'm slowly cashing that out in order to pay my mortgage." 

The Halifax Water board will meet Tuesday to discuss the new proposal.

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