The Winnipeg police union is threatening legal action if city hall makes good on a threat to unilaterally eliminate overtime hours for pension eligibility and alter other benefits.
Maurice Sabourin, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said Friday pension changes have always been negotiated through collective bargaining, adding the union has obtained legal advice the city’s proposed action is illegal.
"They can’t make those changes without our consent or only through bargaining. We will take legal action should it come to that," Sabourin told the Free Press.
"They can’t make those changes without our consent or only through bargaining. We will take legal action should it come to that."
– Maurice Sabourin
It was revealed this week by the Free Press that interim City of Winnipeg chief administrative officer Mike Ruta had informed members of council the administration is preparing a report recommending council unilaterally alter the terms and conditions of the police pension plan, singling out overtime, changes to early retirement provisions, ending the city’s exposure to unfunded liabilities, and ensuring an equal cost-sharing of plan costs.
Sabourin said the letter caught the association by surprise. While the two sides had been discussing possible pension changes for the past two years, he said the city had not raised the issue in almost 10 months.
The inclusion of overtime hours for pension eligibility has been a sticking point for years for city hall and critics of the police association. Mayor Brian Bowman made it an issue in the 2018 election, when it was reported he would support unilaterally eliminating the benefit.
Ruta told councillors excluding police overtime from pensionable earnings would result in an annual savings of $1.5 million, which he said would be directed to "police operations."
The city denied a request from the Free Press for an interview with Ruta.
The police pension plan had been underfunded for several years, which required city hall, as the legal sponsor of the plan, to make additional payments.
A civic spokesman said Friday the changes outlined in Ruta’s letter were developed in response to the poor financial situation of the pension plan. However, another civic spokesman told the Free Press this week the plan’s fortunes had changed; it was no longer considered underfunded and had a surplus.
Ruta’s letter to the police association states the administration will bring a report to council for its Sept. 26 meeting and if approved, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Opposition on council to the unilateral move has come from Couns. Kevin Klein, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, and Brian Mayes, a member of the executive policy committee. Sabourin said the association will be reaching out to other councillors to explain the union’s position.
Both Mayes and Klein said any changes to the plan should be done through negotiations with police association.
Sabourin said he sent Bowman a letter following the October civic vote, putting him on notice the association would take legal action if the city made good on the mayor’s election promise, but there was no response until last week.
"The city was being completely unreasonable in their approach. With no response to us in eight months, they then dropped this bombshell on us," Sabourin said. "We’ve said we’re willing to entertain changes but we’re not going to do it with a sword hanging over our head."
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
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