Lockout ends but pension troubles continue for Saskatoon transit workers

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Photo: Amalgamated Transit Union

330 transit workers returned to work on Monday, after a month-long lock out by their employer, the City of Saskatoon. 

The City announced on Saturday that it would rescind its second lock out order after the City Council vetoed the order. The first lock out order was issued to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 615, deemed illegal by the Saskatchewan Labour Board on September 20th. 

The lock out was issued after the union refused to make concessions on their pension plan that would have meant major reductions in benefits for future transit workers. Other unions have been forced to accept concessions by the City, but the Amalgamated Transit Union is one of the last holdouts against a two-tiered pension plan.

On September 22, two days into the lock-out, the city attempted to circumvent the collective bargaining process by imposing changes to the transit pension plan in City Council. The Labour Board also deemed these changes illegal.

The City has claimed that the transit workers' pension plan carried a $67 million deficit. However, in a press release issued by the union, pension experts at the law firm Koskie Minksy LLP say that the City’s deficit figures reflect changes in the actuarial valuation process, and not in real dollars.

Koskie Minsky’s analysis also shows that the City’s June 2014 update did not reflect the pension fund’s positive investment gains during 2013 - 2014. If the positive investment gains had been reflected, it is likely that the plan would have been presented as fully funded. 

Wages are also at issue in this round of bargaining; according to the union the current pay scale is so low that many transit workers qualify for affordable housing and public assistance.

Mediator Vince Ready was called in during the strike and may be asked to return to Saskatchewan this week. Ready is currently the mediator in a long-standing dispute between IKEA and Teamsters Local 213 in Richmond B.C. He is also known for helping to settle the recent B.C. teacher’s strike.

The City has appealed the Labour Board ruling. Depending on the outcome, the city could be on the hook for wages lost by the 350 transit workers during the month-long lockout.

The City of Saskatoon offering free transit until the end of the month and refunds for monthly bus passes, the total cost of which may exceed $1 million dollars. 

Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

Photo: Amalgamated Transit Union

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