U of W faces rise in pension costs

$3M more a year for contributions

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THE University of Winnipeg has dropped a $3-million-a-year pension bombshell just hours before the first professors' strike in U of W history is expected to begin.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/03/2011 (4175 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE University of Winnipeg has dropped a $3-million-a-year pension bombshell just hours before the first professors’ strike in U of W history is expected to begin.

Actuaries providing a valuation of the university pension plan told the university within the last two weeks it needs to add $3 million annually to pension contributions, associate vice-president of external affairs Dan Hurley said Tuesday.

“The preliminary is, we’re looking for a payment of $3 million a year. It’s $3 million on top of what we’re already covering,” Hurley said.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS The U of W faces pension troubles.

“We’re still trying to deal with the ramifications of that,” said Hurley, who pointed out that the union has representatives on the board overseeing the pension.

The valuation is conducted every three years.

The U of W normally puts $1.78 million into pension contributions and is already spending an extra $600,000 a year to cover a loan to make up for pension shortfalls from a decade ago. Hurley said longer life expectancy for university employees, combined with the recession’s effect on pension funds, are forcing the additional payments.

Hurley said the additional contributions amount to three per cent of the anticipated $100-million budget for the 2011-2012 school year that goes before the board of regents in May.

Close to two-thirds of that budget goes to wages and benefits for the union members scheduled to go out on strike one minute after midnight tonight.

The timing of the news of a pension jam came as a shock to the spokeswoman for the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association.

“Oh, dear God, this certainly puts a pickle in things. I’m gobsmacked,” said Shannon Sampert.

The valuation comes as the two sides face a conciliator and the possibility of a strike.

“Is this another way to scare us into accepting a wage freeze, so they can cover pensions?” said Sampert.

“I’ve got to question the timing and whether this is truthful or if this is fear mongering. If it is, shame on them.”

The U of W and the 350-member faculty association meet with a conciliator this morning in a last-ditch effort to hammer out a new contract.

But the two sides are far apart on pay issues. The union wants 8.4 per cent over three years, while the university is offering 3.7 per cent.

“They’ve had so much time to negotiate,” yet the administration only began to bargain recently, Sampert said Tuesday.

The last deal expired April 1, 2010, and the professors, librarians and coaches in the bargaining unit accused the administration of refusing to bargain last summer when most students would not have been affected.

The union accused the university Tuesday of fear mongering, alleging president Lloyd Axworthy told CBC radio the union’s request to have the Canadian Association of University Teachers assign a professional negotiator to the conciliation talks is a sign a long strike is imminent.

Hurley said CAUT would not be familiar with local issues. “They have the reputation of being involved in long lockouts,” he said.

“They have the reputation of being involved in long strikes,” he said.

— with file from Alexandra Paul

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, March 9, 2011 9:07 AM CST: adds new information, quote.

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