Police pension changes should be negotiated

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There is no question the Winnipeg Police Service’s pension plan needs to be amended. It’s an extremely rich plan. It’s one taxpayers can no longer afford.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/12/2019 (1103 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

There is no question the Winnipeg Police Service’s pension plan needs to be amended. It’s an extremely rich plan. It’s one taxpayers can no longer afford.

But the way city council went about making changes to it last month is troubling.

A provision that allows police officers to include overtime as a pensionable earning was the main sticking point for the city. Most plans don’t allow overtime to be included in pension calculations, for obvious reasons. It inflates the cost of the plan for employers.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files Mayor Brian Bowman

Including overtime in pensionable earnings is also unfair to members who aren’t in a position to work as many extra hours as others. Why should an officer who is unable to accumulate significant amounts of overtime receive a smaller pension than someone who could? Officers are paid well for the overtime they do work. It shouldn’t factor into their pension benefits.

Mayor Brian Bowman and city council were right to demand changes to it. They were also right to seek amendments to the plan’s lopsided contribution rules. Right now, the city contributes just over 18 per cent of pensionable earnings to the plan. Members only contribute eight per cent.

The plan’s early retirement provisions also had to be addressed. Prior to the changes, police officers could retire after 25 years with a full pension, regardless of age. That means an officer that started working at age 20 could retire with a full pension at 45.

It’s an expensive plan. It costs taxpayers $31 million a year.

Council made changes to all three of those provisions. Overtime has been eliminated as a pensionable earning, matching contributions will be phased in and early retirement benefits will be scaled back. Any unfunded liabilities that arise in the future will also shift to members instead of the city. Fully implemented, it will save city hall $12 million a year. The savings will help fund front-line policing.

But council made the changes unilaterally, even though the pension plan is part of the Winnipeg Police Association’s collective agreement. The pension itself is contained in a city bylaw. But the collective agreement states the pension plan forms part of the contract and can only be amended through negotiations.

These changes should have been made through a negotiated settlement. The two sides have found common ground in the past on how to reduce policing costs. In the last round of negotiations, for example, the city and the WPA agreed on more modest wage increases. In previous talks, an agreement was reached to replace some officer positions with cadets as a cost-saving measure. Even changes to the pension plan in the past were made through mutual agreement.

The city wouldn’t likely realize the full $12 million in savings if it chose to negotiate the changes. As any union would, the WPA would want something in return for agreeing to an amended plan. That’s part of the give and take of collective bargaining. However, it’s reasonable to assume the city would still have captured a portion of those savings.

This isn’t just a legal question (the WPA has vowed to use every legal means it can to fight the move). It’s about honouring a contract signed between two parties. City council should keep its contractual commitments. Making unilateral changes to a collective agreement sets a bad precedent.

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