Today I did a bunch of work related to my position as president of my Local. The support staff of Sturgeon School Division, where I work, belong to CUPE — Canadian Union of Public Employees.
We all work in a fairly high-stress environment dealing with kids all day, some of whom do not come from the best of circumstances, and, as a result are burdened with all kinds of ‘special’ little problems.
But, that’s not what this is about. We work the school calendar — which, if you are a school-based employee means you work 200 days a year — the basic instructional calendar, and most of us work less than eight hours a day. It’s not a traditional full-time job, by any means. For those who depend on the job as their sole source of income it can be a tough making ends meet. Even as a second income, it’s not on par with other careers as far as earning power goes.
Many of us working in the education system as classroom or therapy assistants chose the job because we love kids, we believe in the power of education, we want to help make a difference, we wanted to be on the same schedule as our school-aged children and having the summers off to be with our families was worth the sacrifice in income.
One of the things that helps make up for that lack of earnings potential is the benefit of being able to contribute to LAPP – the Local Authorities Pension Plan. LAPP, as it is commonly known, is a defined benefit pension plan, that sees employees and employers contributing more or less the same amount into a pension fund. The fund provides for a steady, half-way decent monthly benefit once an employee retires, if they’ve worked long enough — say 35 years — and contributed that entire time.
Now, our provincial government, the Conservatives led by Allison Redford, wants to change the rules regarding our pension. They want to do away with things like early retirement — which, if you opt for you also opt for a reduced monthly benefit, and they want to get rid of yearly cost of living increases — because apparently once you retire you can live on the same fixed amount of money for the rest of your life — even though utilities, food and gas will continue to rise, and you’ll have to pay exorbitant health care costs because you no longer have the benefit of belonging to a group plan.
The government is saying that the pension fund in its current form is not sustainable. They say it’s costing tax-payers, employers and government too much, and that employees must be prepared to shoulder a larger portion of the cost. They want to take away our future security. They want to take away our right to live with dignity as we grow older and more dependent on the government services we helped pay for with the wages we earned while in the workforce.
The message we kept being given is that it is our responsibility to plan for and save for retirement.
Our answer should be: We did! We paid into a pension plan with the goal of having a secure monthly income after we retired. And for all those people out there who would say that we don’t pay nearly enough into the plan and that it is gold-plated? Well, I can tell you that I pay approximately 10% of my gross monthly wage into the plan every month, and when I retire, after working for approximately 15 years in this job, I will be lucky to see a pension of about $200 a month.
Thank God my husband worked at his job for more than 35 years. He’s a member of LAPP as well. His pension will be less than half of what he presently earns.
And the government and pension critics have the nerve to call that gold-plated. Easy for them to say when the pensions they earn are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and they only have to work a handful of years to qualify for them.
Unions across the province and the country have banded together to push back against the changes the government wants to make to public sector pensions. On March 2nd a rally has been planned to show the Redford government that their proposed changes are not acceptable, and that working people in this province deserve better than what they’re getting . The rally is going to take place at Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton at 2 p.m.
Myself, and presidents from neighbouring locals are working together to try to get as many of our members as we can out to this rally. But we need others to stand up and add their voices to this fight. It doesn’t matter if you belong to our union, or any union — if you believe that our government should keep its grubby mitts off pensions and that they should protect the rights of working people rather than trample all over them, then please come out and join us.
If we don’t stand up to this attack on our pensions, if we lose this fight, then we have lost not only our own future security we have lost our children’s futures, too.