Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Municipal Workers Dress Down, Sticker Vehicles over Proposed Pension Reforms

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Municipal Workers Dress Down, Sticker Vehicles over Proposed Pension Reforms

Article excerpt

Municipal workers battle pension reform

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MONTREAL - The funky pants and sticker-plastered city vehicles are just the beginning as workers and the province draw battle lines over a proposed reform of municipal pensions.

The Liberal government introduced its proposal to overhaul municipal pensions in mid-June, saying those plans carry a collective deficit of about $3.9 billion and aren't sustainable in the long-term.

Underfunding and long-term sustainability of pension plans is a common concern across the country. In Quebec, the response from workers has been hard to ignore.

City employees like police officers, firefighters, public transit and other blue- and white-collar workers have been dressing down for weeks.

Police in Montreal, for example, have donned bright red ball caps and shed their work-issue slacks for camouflage, fluorescent and multi-coloured pants to show their anger.

Meanwhile, city vehicles, public transit buses, police and fire trucks across the province have been plastered with slogan stickers.

Unions say they are being put on the hook for pension shortfalls that are not of their making and feel some municipalities are looking to save on labour costs by renegotiating retirement deals.

"We want to send a clear message to governments that if it continues on that path, it's going to be war," union spokesman Marc Ranger warned.

The government's Bill 3 is calling for a 50-50 split between municipalities and unionized workers on contributions and future deficits.

Currently, the ratio varies in the 170 individual plans that are targeted under the legislation. The bill proposes freezing the automatic indexation of pensions for about 20,000 workers already retired and sets out a timeline for negotiating a settlement, including possible arbitration.

It isn't going over well with the 122,000 workers and retirees affected, but Ranger says the government hasn't shown willingness to budge.

Ranger acknowledges that gaining support from the public -- many of whom don't have any pension plan at all -- is a delicate task. So they've opted for some unorthodox tactics like the pants and stickers to get that support.

Other unsanctioned tactics haven't gone over so well.

Police in Laval were photographed as they drove through large puddles and muddied their squad cars at a construction site. In another incident, a Montreal police vehicle was entirely encased in union protest stickers.

Montreal's police brotherhood also denied it had anything to do with about 100 police officers calling in sick one weekend morning, forcing overtime and a scramble to find replacements.

Ranger says the tactics suggest members are angry.

"We want to be very visible by all means," Ranger said. …

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