VIA Rail, Unifor collective bargaining includes strengthening pension plan

Unifor locals representing Via Rail Canada Inc. employees have opened bargaining in Montreal as contracts are set to expire for more than 2,000 members.

Members identified a number of key issues for contract negotiation, including a strengthened pension plan, according to a press release. The current collective agreements expire on Dec. 31, 2019.

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“Members at Via Rail have a two-tiered pension plan, awarded by the arbitrator and argued for by the company,” said Jerry Dias, Unifor national president, in an email to Benefits Canada. “Employees hired before 2014 contribute to a defined benefit plan, which is in surplus. The benefit is 1.7 per cent up to the [year’s maximum pensionable earnings] and two per cent above the YMPE times their years of credited service to a maximum of 35 years. Members contribute 8.2 per cent up to the YMPE and nine per cent above the YMPE towards their pension.”

However, employees hired after 2014 don’t have the same stable retirement guarantee, he added, as their hybrid plan only provides a benefit of 0.75 per cent of the YMPE times their years of service, with no contributions required for the DB side of the plan.

The hybrid plan requires mandatory member contribution at four per cent towards the DB plan, matched at 50 per cent by the company up to a maximum based on age and service, “such that if age and service is less than 45 points, the maximum employer contribution is only 0.5 per cent,” said Dias.

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“While these differences in benefits are already vastly unfair, additional changes add insult to injury,” he said. “The so-called hybrid plan eliminates pre-retirement spousal benefits, puts conditions on indexation and prevents any transfers or lump-sum payments to the DC side of the plan.”

Dias said the union won’t be bargaining in public. “Proposals have been presented to the company. We’re looking forward to continued negotiations in the coming weeks. Our goal is to ensure a stable retirement for all members at Via Rail and their families.”

Via Rail didn’t respond to Benefits Canada’s request for comment.