Carleton touts commitment to DB plan as CUPE strike ends

The strike by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2424 at Carleton University in Ottawa has ended after workers ratified a three-year collective agreement.

The union announced the ratification earlier this week via its Twitter account, bringing an end to a strike that began on March 5.

Rob Thomas, assistant vice-president of human resources at Carleton, said in a news release: “New language in the contract guarantees the university’s commitment to a defined benefit plan and CUPE’s continued position on the pension plan committee. It also guarantees that union representatives will continue to comprise 50 per cent of the pension plan committee.”

Thomas also said: “The new agreement is a balanced, fair and reasonable settlement that protects the pension plan and its governance and keeps the plan financially sustainable. It also includes salary increases over three years, enhancements to benefits and improvements in contract language for CUPE 2424 members.”

Read: Unique pension arrangement at heart of Carleton University labour dispute

Among the issues in the strike were what CUPE has characterized as moves by the university to weaken the pension plan’s defined benefit guarantee. According to the CBC, employee contributions to the plan were another concern, specifically when it came to a guarantee in the original agreement that ensured employees wouldn’t pay more than six per cent of earnings towards it.

However, pension contributions weren’t part of the collective bargaining process, according to Beth Gorham, manager of public affairs at Carleton.

“Pension contributions are dealt with by the pension committee that oversees the Carleton plan and were not part of the collective agreement bargaining process,” she said in an email to Benefits Canada.

Asked to explain the reference in the university’s statement about the agreement keeping the plan financially sustainable, Gorham referred to the pension committee and its work to keep the university’s pension funds in a “financially viable state.”

Read: Carleton University support staff strike to defend DB pension

In a news release, the union said the new deal adds a pension benefit formula to the collective agreement.

“This is a first,” said Kevin Skerrett, CUPE national researcher on pensions. “Neither CUPE 2424, nor any other union we know of, has ever had any specific benefit provisions included in their collective agreement. The inclusion of this important detail will make any modifications to that basic formula very difficult.”

Other aspects of the new agreement, according to the Ottawa Citizen, include provisions that make it impossible for the university’s board of governors or the pension plan committee to unilaterally eliminate the defined benefit portion of the pension plan. The newspaper noted the agreement also includes a clause that eliminates the possibility of amendments by the university’s board of governors to the terms of the plan without receiving a recommendation from the pension plan committee or negotiating with the unions beforehand. In addition, it includes a grievance procedure to allow for challenges to future changes to the plan.